Bartók: The Wooden Prince; The Miraculous Mandarin (Suite)

Reviewed on Thu 25 Jul, 2019

Susanna Mälkki's meticulously prepared conception keeps the action nicely on the boil and has plenty of personality, incident and atmosphere to commend it.

Finely honed orchestral playing and superbly realistic sonics grace this undeniably superior Bartók offering from Helsinki. Composed between 1914 and 1917, refulgently scored and lasting over 50 minutes, The Wooden Prince serves up a veritable feast for the ears – in fact, it's one of the most sheerly enjoyable post-Romantic splurges imaginable. Susanna Mälkki's meticulously prepared conception keeps the action nicely on the boil and has plenty of personality, incident and atmosphere to commend it – although, if I'm being honest, there isn't quite the irresistible home-grown tang and narrative flair that help propel those superlative versions by Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra (Philips) and Zoltán Kocsis and the Hungarian National Philharmonic (Hungaroton) to the top of the pile. Competition is tougher still in the 1927 suite from The Miraculous Mandarin (in many respects Antál Dorati's blistering mono Chicago SO account for Mercury set the standard for all to follow), but Mälkki presides over another stylish display, and her accomplished colleagues are on impressive form once again (the climactic chase is taken at an exhilarating lick without any loss of rhythmic bite or composure). A splendidly lucid booklet essay, too, by Arnold Whittall. Recommended – and, as I say, BIS's SACD sound is terrific.
–Andrew Achenbach