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59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Sound, Outstanding Performance
I adore this CD, and I greatly admire Bartok as a composer of music and a music scholar. I first heard a recording of Charles Dutoit conducting the Concerto for Orchestra with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. That performance was also great, but at the time I really only enjoyed the finale. When I got this recording, I was ready for the other movements. This Fritz Reiner...
Published on February 14, 2001 by Ed Luhrs

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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No one hears the flaws for the hype
While I think a first-time listener hearing this would understand and appreciate the greatness of Bartok's work, I still can't quite understand the overwhelming favoritism for this, since there are others just as good. This recording is so often described in terms like "unsurpassed musically and sonically" that I wonder if people have really listened to other recordings...
Published 18 months ago by Long-Time Listener


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59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Sound, Outstanding Performance, February 14, 2001
By 
Ed Luhrs (Long Island, NY USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta; Hungarian Sketches (Audio CD)
I adore this CD, and I greatly admire Bartok as a composer of music and a music scholar. I first heard a recording of Charles Dutoit conducting the Concerto for Orchestra with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. That performance was also great, but at the time I really only enjoyed the finale. When I got this recording, I was ready for the other movements. This Fritz Reiner recording with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is from quite a long time ago, yet it sounds like it was made yesterday. It's presence and atmosphere keep you immersed in the music. Reiner has an unbelievable knack for conducting Bartok. Reiner was also a tremendous supporter of Bartok and one of the first conductors to champion his works. Both the Concerto for Orchestra and the Music for Percussion, Strings, and Celesta contain all that is best in Bartok's work. (Also check out his three piano concertos, which are equally remarkable!) Bartok's compositional style alternates between extraterrestrial melodic beauty and flashes of angular, barbaric rhythms. The climactic moments frequently jump at the listener like a crack of thunder, yet underlying it all is a supreme logic and a sense of balance. The Hungarian Sketches are lively examples of Bartok's dedication to bringing folk traditions to orchestral music. Since Reiner ranks among the 20th century's greatest conductors, and since Bartok brings a supreme scholastic energy to his music, I recommend this recording highly.
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51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unsurpassed Musically and Sonically, June 5, 2001
This review is from: Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta; Hungarian Sketches (Audio CD)
There are plenty of enthusiastic reviews that attest to the quality of this performance, so I can only add, emphatically, that this is the greatest recorded performance of one of two of the greatest pieces by one of the greatest Modern composers. That being said, CD buyers are often wary of the sound quality of early stereo recordings remastered on CD. To them I would say that this is also one of the very best sounding CDs you will ever own of any music, recorded in digital or analog. Absolutely full, rich and clear sound, simply beautiful to the ear. One of the great classical recordings ever made.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Concerto recording is as authoritative as you can get!, April 20, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta; Hungarian Sketches (Audio CD)
Most people do not know the circumstances that made the Concerto possible. Bartok had just come to this country, an impoverished musician and composer from his native war-torn Hungary in 1944. Years earlier, a close friendship had developed between his student, Fritz Reiner, while Reiner was still at the Budapest Academy. After graduation and a brief European stint, Reiner came to the U.S. to further his career as a conductor. In the intervening years, Reiner and Bartok maintained a close and regular correspondence with each other. It was during Reiner's tenure at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra that Bartok came to the U.S., financially ruined, ill, and devoid of the desire to compose. Reiner, by now well-off financially and successful, took his former teacher under his wing and helped him financially as well as spiritually. During Bartok's convalescence, Reiner and other U.S.-based musicians arranged for Bartok to receive a commission for a composition from the Boston Symphony. This was the creative spark needed to fire Bartok's compositional talents once again, and resulted in the Concerto for Orchestra. The first performance was by Kousssevitzky and the Boston Symphony in 1945; the first recording was by Reiner and Pittsburgh by Columbia Masterworks that same year.
But improvements in recording technology and music directorship of an ensemble much superior to that of Pittsburgh resulted in Reiner again committing the Concerto to tape for RCA in Chicago in 1955. The result is a performance and recording much superior to the earlier Pittsburgh one. This recording gives the Chicago first chair musicians opportunity to "strut their stuff." The later recording of "Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta" is nonpareil in its own right.
Despite the Concerto having the so-called "hole-in-the-middle" that afflicted early stereo recordings, this problem had been solved by the time of the Music for Strings recording in 1958. Nevertheless, both recordings sound great for their age, and authority of performance is no way in doubt here. Buy this recording with absolute confidence and need to look no further.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To Die For!, November 1, 2002
By 
Jay (Republic of Ireland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta; Hungarian Sketches (Audio CD)
If my house were on fire I'd run into the burning building just to rescue my copy of this recording. Fritz Reiner (Friendly Fritz to his musicians!) was a former student of Bela Bartok's at the Budapest Conservatoire and remained a life long friend and supporter of the composer, particularly when he was living in exile in America during World War 2, in fact it was in no small part due to Reiner's effort that The Concerto for Orchestra was commissioned in the first place, so who better to play it? But even with that in mind, Reiner rises to the occasion brilliantly. When Gramophone magazine reviewed this CD, they compared it to Boulez's 1992 recording made in the same auditorium and commented on the uncanny realism of Reiner's recording, especially in the quiet passages. This is particularly telling at the beginning of the second movement, the decaying echo of the solo percussion is exceptionally realistic. Wonderful though the interpretation of the Concerto is, the "Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta" coupled with it on this CD set recorded two years later (in 1957), is even better.
Although many people will say that Ferenc Fricsay's recording is perhaps more in keeping the spirit of the music, for me Reiner will always have the edge, he simply lets the music speak without ever letting it get out of control. I can give him no higher complement than that.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still the one!, January 5, 2001
By 
This review is from: Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta; Hungarian Sketches (Audio CD)
After all these years two recordings from the '50s still command the field: #1 the disc at hand - Reiner/CSO, #2 Dorati/LSO on Mercury.
I've followed these recordings of the Concerto and the Music for... through various issues (RCA and Victrola lp, initial CD and now the current -- excellent -- reissue). No other recordings have matched the fire and ice(and heart!) of these.
I even love the cover art: 1950's "moderne" which carries me back to the days of vacuum tubes and blond speaker cabinets with grills that looked like upholstery.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Indispensable!, June 16, 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta; Hungarian Sketches (Audio CD)
These two Bartok works are indispensable to any collection of twentieth-century masterpieces. CONCERTO FOR ORCHESTRA is Bartok's most popular work. It is quite literally a giant virtuosic "concerto" in which the "soloist" is the whole orchestra. Bartok gives every section of the orchestra a chance to shine and to show off their virtuosity. I read that the jazz theme in the brass in the last movement can be read as a token of gratitude to the Americans, who were advancing on Nazi Germany at the time of the work's composition. Place it up there with Stravinsky's SYMPHONY IN THREE MOVEMENTS (last movement) and Profofiev's Fifth Symphony as a great work written under the impetus of that momentous occasion of victory in World War II. MUSIC FOR STRINGS, PERCUSSION, AND CELESTA is less popular in style than the CONCERTO, but it too is a masterpiece and a piece which one can grow to love. Let it take you on a remarkable sonic journey, from the eerie opening fugue to the ghostly "night music" to the exhilarating finale.
Many other reviewers have praised this recording as one of the definitive versions of these pieces. There is no doubt that all sections of the orchestra are masters of their instruments, and that the strings are on top of the rhythmic difficulties in the MUSIC, while conveying great passion and drama as well. This CD should belong in EVERYONE's collection.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No one hears the flaws for the hype, February 22, 2013
This review is from: Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta; Hungarian Sketches (Audio CD)
While I think a first-time listener hearing this would understand and appreciate the greatness of Bartok's work, I still can't quite understand the overwhelming favoritism for this, since there are others just as good. This recording is so often described in terms like "unsurpassed musically and sonically" that I wonder if people have really listened to other recordings of these pieces. Reiner at his best was certainly great, and the recording quality is first rate for its time, but is hardly "unsurpassed." And other conductors have provided more searching readings of this work. Reiner's fast tempos make the final movement exciting, but there should be more to this movement than excitement--including moments of mystery and graceful melody that Reiner skates over in his rush to build a "sonic spectacular." Another performance that is equally exciting, while also capturing more of those inward, mysterious moments, is Karajan's 1974 recording on EMI, which succeeds much better (and the sound quality is better too). Other outstanding performances include Kubelik on DGG, Solti on Decca, and Skrowaczewski on the Oehms label, who pairs the Concerto for Orchestra with another great late Bartok work, the Divertimento for Strings. (Skrowaczewski has much better recorded sound, even if his orchestra is not quite a match for Chicago or Berlin). Further, Boulez's recording on DGG, also with the Chicago Symphony, I think would be an excellent introduction to the work, and for me, it's about as good as Reiner's overall. I'm actually a fan of Reiner for many things he did, but I just feel people need to look beyond the hype here.

Having said that, Reiner is at his best in the Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste and the Hungarian Pictures.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Various versions now available but two offer by far the best sound, December 31, 2013
By 
This review is from: Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta; Hungarian Sketches (Audio CD)
This very famous disc containing music recorded on three tracks in 1955 and 1958 has been renowned for two reasons. For those interested in the music, these interpretations and their performance by the Chicago orchestra set standards that have never been seriously matched, let alone improved upon. For those interested in sound engineering these recordings also set the standard for recordings made at that time.

This sonic achievement became more apparent when the Gold Seal edition was replaced with the Living Stereo edition as here. Having owned both, plus the LP before, I can verify that, in A/B comparisons, the sound is altogether improved with an enhanced sensation of 'being there.' That only leaves the SACD version to consider and that is now long out of production. However, at inflated cost, there are still a few still available - mostly available from Japan.

Despite the inflated cost, I finally ordered, and received, one of these rare SACD copies from a Japanese supplier. The improvement in sound over the previous Living Stereo version, which was itself very good, was immediately clear with far greater definition, depth and warmth. In fact the difference was almost startling and justified the rave notices it has received from the SACD fraternity. That now enables a direct comparison and ranking to be made which is clearly SACD followed by this 'Living Stereo' version and finally the Gold Seal version.

In the meantime it would be reasonable to ask why would one wish to buy such an historic recording when there are fine, and more modern, alternatives now available? Of the leading contenders I would strongly suggest that the Fischer/Budapest alternative offers a particularly effective version that has a clear Hungarian 'rustic' favour. The 24 bit remastered Solti/LSO alternative is also much improved sonically and delivers high powered, non-Hungarian, interpretations with a sense of light humour. His later Chicago version has less, or no sense of humour and is all about high pressure delivered faultlessly with brilliant playing in a fine recording, if that appeals.

However, this set of recordings by Reiner has the best of all worlds. The Chicago orchestra plays with brilliance to match any of the other ensembles, Reiner being a hard task-master on technical matters. However, and crucially, Reiner allows the music room to breathe with scrupulous attention to all the moderating instructions as regards precise phrasing and dynamics. This also allows the Hungarian folk element an opportunity to shine through. These remarks apply equally to all three pieces on this disc.

This Concerto performance is frequently referred to in superlatives so I won't add further to that other than to nod in agreement. However, if there has been a more enjoyable, and even amusing, account of the Hungarian Sketches I have yet to hear it. Jarvi's version in a dull experience comparatively. The Music for Strings, percussion and Celesta is as fine a performance as likely to be offered and the early over-prominence of the bass has now been controlled with a proper balance in the Living Stereo edition.

In conclusion therefore, if the SACD option is not available to purchasers, I would suggest that those interested ought to snap up a copy of this Living Stereo version before that, too, becomes impossible to find.

............................................

Some dialogue from the comments section that may offer further help:

Great review, but...Solti as "non-Hungarian"? Surely you jest.... (U.S. review)

I was describing the type of performance, not Solti's nationality! The LSO performance is less Hungarian inflected for instance than Fischer in Budapest or even Ancerl in his performance with the Czech PO. and has relatively more of an international feel about it. Those features become more pronounced with his later Chicago performance which is even more high powered and still less Hungarian in flavour. By this I would suggest that the essential underlying dance character of the piece is less pronounced than either Fischer or Ancerl who emphasise that element rather than the more dramatic drive that Solti delivers. Maybe this may help to explain my meaning more clearly. I hope so. Best wishes, Ian Giles.

I thought that you might like to know that before I buy a recording I now look through all the reviews to see if you have posted one. Your assessments and opinions are invaluable. Thank you. (US review)

I particularly like your format of review. They give the prospective purchaser an idea of the style of the playing and relevant comparisons. They are succinct. Keep up the good work! (UK review)

I'm sure there are many other serious collectors, besides myself, who wait for your synopsis and opinion before spending their hard-earned money on new releases...
Keep up the good work!
Thank you (UK review)
............................................
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Desert island disc..., November 22, 2011
By 
This review is from: Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta; Hungarian Sketches (Audio CD)
I really like Reiner's reading of "Music for strings, percussion and celesta", but... the "Concerto for orchestra" is simply phenomenal, both musically and sonically (the recording is crystal clear). I guess this would definitely be one of my "desert island discs"...
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Precision and control., January 17, 2004
By 
ken yong (Kuala Lumpur) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta; Hungarian Sketches (Audio CD)
The recordings of works by Bartok were supposedly made by mid 1950s. What surprised me by first listening is the clarity and the ambience of the recording. Even rivalled by most high quality DDD recordings, I suppose this recording is one of the finest stereo recordings in existence.
Fritz Reiner is supposedly a top-notch taskmaster of orchestras. This recording proves the hype about him. The precision and control is no-nonsense and I recognise the characteristics that of "Reiner" trademark. This is the first recording of Chicago Symphony Orchestra for me that is lead other than Georg Solti and Daniel Barenboim. Chicago's brasses are precise, distinguished, controlled and has unbelievable power that led Chicago Symphony to have the reputation of having the best brasses in the world. No wonder under Solti, I was to believe the hype about Chicago's brasses were nonsense! I am no fan of Bartok, admittedly, but this recording definetely is a gem.
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