Concerto for Orchestra; Divertimento

Royal Philharmonic / Gatti

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Nothing if not a confident choice with which to celebrate your new orchestra, your new recording contract. If you've a mind to show off, then you do so in the best of company with Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra. Characteristically, though, Gatti's Bartok is more about drama than display. And that's more of a novelty than you might think. Bartok so often gets left behind in performances of the Concerto. So often it's about sound not because of sound. So often the music is subsumed by the special effects. The show's the thing.

Not here. Gatti's "Introduzione" at once opens magic casements on to the concerto beyond. Muted string tremolandi are drawn like a veil over the opening pages, the violas' sul ponticello adding a touch of frost. The solo flute is pale and very interesting. Not a bar, not a note goes by that doesn't convey something. The intrigue of a first encounter, that's the spirit. So those little oboe and/or clarinet and harp diversions in the first movement come on like ancient airs and dances; so there is nothing remotely faceless about the woodwind "couplets" of the second movement; so the third movement "Elegia" stretches and intensifies the dynamic possibilities, suggesting a lake of tears to shame even Bluebeard, with ardent violins pulling more sound up from their bottom strings than I'll wager even they thought they had. When did you last hear the cor anglais's plangent canon to the lyric main theme of the "Intermezzo interotto" sound this purposeful? And since when did Till Eulenspiegel get to play tag with the Shostakovich "Leningrad" theme? All right, so the finale sacrifices fire to the rustico character of the music (presto? hardly), so you're listening to the Royal Philharmonic thinking of the Chicago Symphony. But there's more music being made here than in the average Concerto for Orchestra - and that's a fact.

The Divertimento, meanwhile, is further testament to Gatti's work in progress with the RPO strings. Folk dance and fiddling are at the heart of this piece, the character once again dictating the sound. Which is just as it should be and so rarely is.

Edward Seckerson