Bartók: Kossuth; Two Portraits, Op 5; Suite No 1, Op 3

Reviewed on Tue 02 Dec, 2014

This must be one of the recordings of the year. In the early symphonic poem Kossuth (which I have never heard better performed) we find the young composer immersed in homage to Richard Strauss; Wagner and Dvořák also loom large, and perhaps the fanfare-like motto-theme appears once too often. The First Suite, however, really comes alive, played with fervour and commitment. Packed with Hungarian character, the music hints at components of Bartók's mature style, reminding us that his distinctive language has its roots in the soil of Hungarian and Romanian folk music. Similar plaudits for the lightning-sharp 'Grotesque', second of the Two Portraits, prefiguring the terrified prostitute's music in The Miraculous Mandarin; Falletta nails the astonishing conclusion, with twittering woodwind fleeing the scene before the final, crushing brass entry. Her direction throughout is utterly assured and free from condescension. It's a no-brainer, folks – and just in time for Christmas, too!
–Chris Achenbach