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The work is both powerful and playful, harmonically searching yet not averse to parody. If fun is poked at jazz procedures, Shostakovich's pretentious 'Leningrad' Symphony also gets a judicious pasting. The mysterious opening becomes increasingly agitated till an irate accelerando launches the Allegro on its wayward path [listen -- track 1, 2:56-4:07]. A central brass chorale in the second movement offsets the resourceful 'Play of Pairs' that provides its main matter. The introductory patter gives nothing away till a yoke of bassoons launches into a somewhat giddy progress [listen -- track 2, 0:00-0:58].

Born in Budapest, Fritz Reiner did all he could for Bartók's American years. This recording from October 1955 superbly recalls his advocacy. The playing has exemplary clarity but in the 'Elegia', for instance, an additional agonised intensity of utmost eloquence [listen -- track 3, 2:07-2:53]. Shostakovich certainly deserved his biff on the nose during the random wit of the 'Intermezzo interrotto' and learnt to do better later. Bartók is memorable in his mockery, and no less so in the surging cantilena of the Chicago strings [listen -- track 4, 1:01-1:54].

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Copyright © 25 February 2004 Robert Anderson, Cairo, Egypt


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