Dennis Russell Davies has had a long-running and highly productive association with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra – documented on exceptional ECM recordings of repertoire from Mozart via Stravinsky and Pärt to Kancheli – and is currently the orchestra’s Conductor Laureate. Here he leads them through spirited performances of Bartók’s Divertimento, the ever popular Romanian Folk Dances, and Seven Songs (for which the orchestra is joined by the Hungarian Radio Children’s Choir).
This selection of lively Bartók pieces is viewed through the prism of Witold Lutoslawski’s Musique funèbre, written in memory of the great Hungarian composer, and first performed on the 10th anniversary of Bartók’s death. It’s an important, and moving, piece - and one which also led to international recognition for Lutoslawski, Bartók’s Polish kindred spirit.
The Divertimento for strings was Bartók’s last composition in Europe before emigrating to the US. It adapts Hungarian local colour in a manner that documents his despondency and can still cause shivers in listeners today. He was probably aware that with this work in 1939 he was not only taking leave of Europe and his traditions. He must also have sensed that Europe as he knew it was about to disappear into the darkness of history.
The least known works here are undoubtedly the Seven Songs, taken from a collection of 27 by Bartók. These choruses on folk texts were created for Kodály’s educational programme. Like the Romanian Folk Dances of 1915 (which were orchestrated a couple of years later), they are not folksong arrangements but rather original compositions “in the style of folk music”. Wolfgang Sandner comments in his booklet notes: “They reveal a personality trait that one rarely comes across to such an extent in his other compositions: serenity; one is tempted to call it a sunny disposition, not clouded by social adversity. “Hey, life, glorious life, / This is the life, the glorious life!” are the last lines of the wooing song Csujogató, and that is how Bartók’s original music sounds: joyous, beautiful and pure.”
Witold Lutoslawski: Musique Funèbre
Béla Bartók: Roumanian Folk Dances for Orchestra, Sz. 68 - Trans.for string orchestra Arthur Willner
Romanian Folk Dances
Béla Bartók: Divertimento for Strings, Sz. 113
Allegro non troppo
27 Two and Three-Part Choruses Sz. 103, BB 111 for children's or female chorus & piano (or orchestra)
Don't leave me here!
Only tell me
20th May 2012
“Russell Davies gives both pieces with the intensity they demand, the sound of the Stuttgart Kammerorchester warm and heard in a generously resonant acoustic.”
19th May 2012
“Bringing together three Bartók suites with the funeral music composed in his memory by his admirer Witold Lutoslawski, Dennis Russell Davies here offers convincing confirmation of the former's influence on the latter. The “Romanian Folk Dances” are by turns impishly ebullient and wistfully nostalgic”
The Arts Desk
16th June 2012
“Pairing these composers always makes good sense. Bartók’s brilliant absorption of Hungarian folk idioms into a radical modernist style is one of 20th-century music’s greatest achievements, and it’s surprising how few great composers followed his lead – an exception being Lutosławski..Predictably [Musique Funebre is] not a joyous listening experience but still a compelling, impressive one.”
The Independent on Sunday
8th July 2012
“a programme infused with nostalgia...the Hungarian Radio Children's Choir joins the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester for a selection of seven choruses, sheer and vibrant of sound.”
“Dennis Russell Davies elicits finely judged and very refined performances from the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra. Their measured account of Lutoslawski's Funeral Music is deeply felt and, while not displacing the composer's own, gets to the heart of the matter. Ensemble is slick in the Romanian Folk Dances...Well worth investigating.”
“This intelligent and satisfying programme features three contrasting miniature masterpieces by Bartok...[Lutoslawski's tone-row] is appealingly earthy, and the 12-note chords at the climax have a powerful scrunch, especially in this searing performance from the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra under Dennis Russell Davies.”
“Superbly performed and recorded on this CD, Lutosławski’s Musique funèbre builds in counterpoint and concentration with startling clarity and needle-sharp accuracy under Dennis Russell Davies’s directorship.”
Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.