Bartš®k: Concerto for Orchestra; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta; Hungarian Sketches

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Product Description

Since its release on LP in the mid-1950s, Fritz Reiner's rendition of the Concerto for Orchestra has stood as the standard against which all other recordings of the work are measured. Even after all these years, the recording remains just as convincing and authoritative. Reiner's superb control of his orchestra and of Bartš®k's rhythms and textures is still unsurpassed, even by dozens of subsequent conductors in the digital age. Likewise, the Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta shows just what an incredible ensemble the Chicago Symphony was under Reiner's direction. This umpteenth reissue, in RCA's Living Stereo series, promises to be the one to have, its sonics noticeably improved over the earlier CD release in 1989. --David Vernier

Customer Reviews:

  • Precision and control.
    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....more info

  • Still Great
    My first exposure to this recording was in a music course in college in the early 60s and I always remembered it fondly, especially the Elegy, which is one of the great melodic achievements in all of music. For some reason, this never wound up in my library of vinyl and CD's, until now. The sound is incredible, easily on a par with many of today's recordings. But more impressive is the mastery of Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony. It's called Concerto for Orchestra for a good reason, and the players deliver all the appropriate virtuosity. The taut, driving rhythm, Bartok's great contribution to 20th century music, moves the music forward naturally and inexorably. Great stuff and a great model for today's new generation of conductors and musicians!...more info
  • The definitive recording!! (unless you have it on vinyl)
    Since Basstrombone80 got the others, I'll handle this one (I'm a tenor trombonist) Kind of ironic eh, basstrombone80? considering the imfamous "Bartok Gliss"?
    Reiner's interpretation is flawless, and the Chicago Symphony captures the sound of this piece like no other! A cd or record to die for!...more info
  • Bartok in all his neurotic hysterical glory
    I can't vouch for Chef Devergue's claim about the definitiveness of Reiner's CONCERTO. Because I still haven't heard Boulez's version. But I think it's fair to conclude that Reiner's MUSIC FOR STRINGS is pretty well unsurpassable. (Just like Reiner's version of Hovhaness's MYSTERIOUS MOUNTAIN.) And like Robert Romano said, the fact that it was recorded in the 1950s qualifies it as a technical miracle.

    Regarding the ALLEGRO of MUSIC FOR STRINGS: Near the end there's a certain descending 7-note phrase that never fails to crack me up. If you're familiar with MUSIC FOR STRINGS, then you probably know the passage I'm talking about. What a hoot....more info
  • An historic performance!
    Thank goodness that this one is still available. Here, we have a brilliant rendering of some of Bartok's more popular works and Fritz Reiner at his very best. This is one of the great classical music performances of all time. A must for collectors....more info
  • The BEST
    The featured Concerto for Orchestra is a thrilling 20th century masterpiece: it contains passages of (now mild) dissonant harmony, especially the wonderful trumpet part in 2nds. Composed at Reiner's instigation, it becomes a showpiece for each section of that magnificent orchestra (hence a "concerto"). The 1950's CSO was a terrific team of virtuosos (only Reiner could prevent that from being an oxymoron). As a kid I was amazed at how Reiner's tiny baton strokes could control a big orchestra of grown ups, and treasured this recording of him (one of my first).

    This platter was also the first time I'd heard a Celesta. Its ethereal entries seemed to shimmer and float through the orchestral texture, and give me shivers still. It's great to have this program reissued on an exemplary CD (although the old cover art is ugly still). After those two pieces the vigorous Dances are relatively tame fare....more info

  • Outstanding Bartok
    Bela Bartok is a very hard composer to record successfully I imagine. There are so many facets to his imagination that if a conductor can't interpret them to his orchestra, then it's easy for the performances to get "lost in translation" so to speak.

    Fritz Reiner, who was one of the greatest classical conductors of all time, and his Chicago Symphony turned in one of the best performances of this very complex piece of music I've ever heard. The performance is passionate, technically superb, and emotionally well balanced. This is an absolutely essential recording for all classical fans regardless if you like Bartok's music or not. This recording made me a Bartok fan, because the performances were so convincing.

    If you're already into Bartok's music, then I'm sure you own this. New listeners to Bartok also pick up Pierre Boulez's readings of Cantata Profana and The Wooden Prince on Deutsche Grammophon. This is also essential listening for Bartok fans....more info
  • Blown Away!
    The old LP of this recording was my introduction to the Bartok Music for Strings Percussion and Celeste when I was a kid in the 1950s. What a treat to find it again after all these years! The clarity, precision and musicality are unsurpassed by any I have heard since. It even blows away the live performances I recently enjoyed with Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin as well as Esa-Peka Solonen with the LA Phil. This is a definitive performance. No question about it....more info
  • Bartok at his best
    The "Concerto for Orchestra" was the first composition by Bela Bartok I ever heard. I originally had a recording Karl Ancerl and the Czech Philharmonic, probably on the old Parliament label (actually taken from a Supraphon recording), and enjoyed it very much. Then I heard Fritz Reiner's October 22, 1955, recording with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on the RCA Victor label and I knew this was the version to have. This was part of RCA's early experiments with stereophonic sound, initially released to customers on reel-to-reel tapes, but more widely distributed when RCA began issuing "Living Stereo" discs in 1958.

    The recording still has amazing sound; it doesn't sound dated at all, a tribute to the RCA engineers working in Chicago's Orchestra Hall. The performance is outstanding throughout. Reiner knew Bartok, even studied with him, and the close relationship between conductor and composer is preserved in this recording. The "Concerto" was an amazing achievement because Bartok had been terribly ill, close to death, and he rallied when given the commission by Serge Koussevitsky (music director of the Boston Symphony from 1924 to 1949) to write some very imaginative, inspired music, even including a biting satire of Shostakovich's "Nazi" march from that composer's seventh symphony (which Bartok heard performed on the radio by the NBC Symphony under Arturo Toscanini).

    In much of the work, one is struck by the haunting, mysterious qualities; this is a unique musical world, which culminates in a sentimental look back at Bartok's native Hungary and then the changes he has experienced since coming to America at the outbreak of World War II. There is even a hint of jazz at the end! The Chicago musicians were in top form here, driven obviously by their exacting, autocratic conductor.

    Reiner also achieves excellent results in the music for piano, celesta, strings, and percussion, as well as the orchestrated versions of some of his piano works (the "Hungarian Sketches"). These were all recorded on December 28 and 29, 1958, in Chicago's Orchestra Hall.

    This is clearly a definite version of some of the best orchestral music by Bela Bartok (1881-1945), highlighted by perhaps the best performance ever recorded of the "Concerto for Orchestra."
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  • Still the one!
    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....more info

  • Speechless
    I've listened to Bartok for over 30 years and have greatly admired and loved his Concerto for Orchestra during that time. I've always loved Ormandy's recording with the Philadelphia and still do, but this recording just knocks my socks off!! It's hard to believe that it was made in 1955! Reiner.. the Chicago Symphony.. Lewis Layton (legendary sound engineer during RCA's Golden Age)... it has it all. Get it. You will not be disappointed if you love and appreciate great music...more info
  • Still definitive after all these years!
    One can certainly make the quite reasonable argument that the Boulez recording has set the standard for the Bartok Concerto. It might have the edge over Reiner based on sound quality. Definitely, any admirer of Bartok has to have both Reiner & Boulez in his or her collection. It is only an a question of which is primus inter pares.

    The fact that Reiner, after all these years, has only Boulez to rival him is amazing, in and of itself. One really doesn't long for the "good old days" of the tyrannical, fear-inspiring conductor, but when one hears a recordings such as this, one appreciates that such an approach did have positive results.

    If the Reiner's Concerto is rivalled only by Boulez, then his Music for Strings, Percussion & Celesta is so far out in front of the pack that one wonders if anyone will ever produce a recording that will begin to rival Reiner. I have never heard any other version that comes anywhere close....more info

  • Indispensable!
    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....more info

  • My introduction to Bartok
    I'm not sure where to put my review. I actually purchased the SACD version of this album, but as I don't have an SACD player, what I'm listening to is the CD version (i.e., the product on this page).

    It seems as though most (all?) of the reviews of this disc are from individuals who were already familiar with and fond of Bartok's music at the time of purchase. My perspective is a bit different, and I hope will be helpful to those who are unfamiliar with Bartok and are deciding whether or not they wish to try some new music.

    Although I have listened to classical music for some time, when I bought this disk I was largely unfamiliar with Bartok's work. In fact, I mostly listened to pre-20th century classical music, and had mixed feelings about the limited amount of 20th century music I did know well (e.g., I like Ravel, but don't much care for Shostakovich). So this disc was both an introduction to Bartok and an attempt to get to know modern classical music better.

    In all candidness, I was prepared to be disappointed with the disc, but definitely am not. While Bartok certainly broke with the preceding Romantic tradition, this disc is a collection of refined, enjoyable music. I really enjoy the Concert for Orchestra, and listen to it frequently. If you absolutely, positively must have the melody of a Tchaikovsky, you might not like it, but it is a refined peice of music with some very beautiful segments. I have to admit that the Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta doesn't do much for me (though the other reviewers seem to like it), but the Hungarian Sketches are great--colorful and featuring some neat rhythms and harmony. All in all, this is a very worthwhile collection of music.

    The sound quality--again, I'm listening to the CD layer of the SACD Hybrid--is good. (As an aside, I'll add that I've purchased of handful of these "Living Stereo" recordings, and they usually have excellent sound quality and performances. I expect to buy more of them.)

    When you add in the low price ($8 as the time of my writing), this is a great buy. If you are thinking about trying out 20th century classical composers, or just trying out Bartok, this is a fine, fine start and more than worth the money. I don't think one need be a fan of dissonance or an ardent admirer of Bartok and his contemporaries to enjoy this disc.

    ...more info
  • not the best performance
    M.S.P.C. is an absolutely amazing piece of music, but the definitive recording is Boulez's....more info
  • 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 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....more info
  • Essential Recordings
    Fritz Reiner was the driving force behind Bela Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra. Reiner and Bartok had been friends for over 40 years having met as piano students at the Budapest Academy. The composer had been in the United States since 1940 and the separation from his beloved Hungary combined with his ill health made the transition unhappy and he had no will to compose. Agatha Fassett's book Bela Bartok: The American Years recounts the composer's life during this time and, since Ms. Fassett knew Bartok's wife, her portrait of the composer is first hand. Maestro Reiner convinced Serge Koussevitsky in 1943 to commission the work and conducted the premiere in December of that year. The Concerto for Orchestra became Bartok's most popular work.

    This recording with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was made in 1955 and I do not think that a finer one has been recorded. The details of Bartok's score come through and the balance is perfect, allowing us a true live performance and the quality of the recording really comes through during quieter moments. Reiner's intimate knowledge of the score and his control are apparent in this recording. This is also true for the recording of Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta and Hungarian Sketches from 1958. Both works are beautifully played with great precision that lacks nothing for the feel of the music. The Hungarian Sketches are marvelously stylish, bringing out the nature of the music.

    These recordings are essential and have certainly lost nothing since they were made in the 1950's. Rather than have any distortions the transfer to CD has been carried out with great success so the original sound is even better.

    ...more info


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