Customer Review

6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well played but fairly undernourished Bartok, January 5, 2008
This review is from: Bartók: The Miraculous Mandarin (Complete Ballet) / Dance Suite / Hungarian Pictures (Audio CD)
As much as I enjoyed reading the earlier review here, I came up with a different conclusion. I hear nothing of special distinction in Marin Alsop's Miraculous Mandarin. This is fierce, even murderous music that is customarilly played for maximum shock value (I remember covering my ears when I first heard it at a Boston Sym. concert in the Seventies), but Alsop's reading falls into rhythmic slackness during softer passages, and she tames the savagery of the score too often.

I will grant that she gets the Bournemouth Sym., a good but hardly great orchestra, to play well, and Naxos provides detailed recorded sound (which I've heard only in conventional stereo). But Boulez, Martinon, and Levine (in a live reading on Oehms from Munich) have nothing to fear. As much hype as Alsop has gained, more for reasons of sexual politics than innate talent, I found my attention wandering. By the time I got to the much easier Dance Suite, her dull, square rhythms struck me as almost amateurish, and she provides little sound-painting in the evocative Hungarian Sketches. I feel guilty writing one emperor's-new-clothes review after another about Alsop, but I've also attended a couple of her concerts, and for me the magic doesn't happen.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 28, 2009 12:21:47 AM PDT
J. Clemons says:
My feeling is that your initial reaction to the M. Mandarin when you covered your years says a lot about your appreciation and love of music: you lack taste and emotional understanding. Your review is also sloppily written and verges on the incoherent. I also note that you have written many reviews, indicating points for quantity but undoubtedly bad grades for quality. Who cares whether Boulez et al have something to fear? The best Mandarin is by Dorati. I have several different recordings, none of which comes close to the beauty (yes the M. Mandarin is beautiful) of Dorati's version.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 28, 2009 3:15:41 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 28, 2009 3:24:32 PM PDT
You're quite right to call me on the sloppiness of my review. I corrected that.

I find the Dorati version not to my liking, either. If you believe that he and Alsop are grat conductors, I am happy to leave them to you.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 25, 2009 8:54:37 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Mar 18, 2011 8:29:26 PM PDT]

Posted on Mar 18, 2011 8:35:52 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 18, 2011 8:36:36 PM PDT
I wasn't too impressed with Alsop's Bartok series at all. She's too rhythmically slack for Bartok or at least for my tastes. Her "Miraculous Mandarin" pales in comparison to Boulez's (with the NY Phil. on Sony, his DG recording wasn't to my liking) and Fischer's. I recently acquired a recording of Christoph von Dohnanyi's performance of this ballet with Vienna Philharmonic, which is an orchestra that would seem like it would be an absolute disaster playing this music, but, as it turns out, this was one of the most incredible performances I've heard on disc. Dohnanyi really drove this orchestra to its boiling point and the virtuosity is just overwhelming. I would say Dohnanyi comes more from the Solti side of conducting Bartok where hard-driven rhythms and absolute viciousness rules the performance. I was, quite frankly, surprised and in awe listening to this recording.

Have you heard it, Santa Fe?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 18, 2011 8:57:11 PM PDT
No, but I will make sure to hear it now. I heard the VPO do an all-Bartok concert in Carnegie Hall a few seasons back, and unfortunately, expectations were met -- they were not good, but I attributed that to the conductor, Barenboim.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 21, 2011 4:12:18 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 21, 2011 4:12:59 PM PDT
Yes, I own the original recording of the Dohnanyi/VPO, but it can be purchased, rather cheaply, on the Decca Eloquence label.

Stravinsky: Petrushka; Bartok: Miraculous Mandarin [Australia]

I don't doubt that the Barenboim performance wasn't good. He's not a noted Bartok conductor. In fact, I heard a recording of him performing "The Rite of Spring" with the CSO a few years ago and remember laughing out loud at how he didn't understand the piece whatsoever. His performance was so mediocre that he made Alsop's Bartok recordings seem world-class.
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Location: Santa Fe, NM USA

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