Marriner: Bartok Music for Strings, Percussion & Celesta, etc. - Argo ZRG 657
Jacket: EX / Vinyl: NM / UK pressing
This fine LP – with its striking, near-iconic cover art – from Argo Records (ZRG 657, English Decca pressing, green/silver label / oval logo, stereo) features Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields’ brilliant all-Bartok album, recorded at St. John’s, Smith Square, London, during 14-17 October 1969 (producer: Michael Bremmen / engineers: Stanley Goodall and Peter van Biene).
The exact contents (and stamper numbers) are as follows:
Bartok: Music for String, Percussion, and Celesta Sz. 106
Bartok: Divertimento for String Orchestra Sz. 113
Among the brilliant soloists heard in these remarkable performances are Kenneth Heath (cello), Stephen Shingles (viola), Alan Loveday (violin), Trevor Connah (violin), James Holland (percussion), Roger Smalley (piano), Osian Ellis (harp), Leslie Pearson (celesta), and Eric Pritchard (timpani).
The remarkable cover art was designed by George Dauby. There are insightful and eloquent liner notes on the reverse side of the jacket by Malcolm Rayment, provided in English only.
Wrote the eminent critic Edward Greenfield in his review for the February 1970 issue of The Gramophone:
“This recording of the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta] from the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields follows Bartok's original intention of a work for chamber orchestra, and with players of this quality the extra refinement possible brings benefit in all four movements. Unless massive tone at climaxes is a first essential, I would certainly count this as a first choice, particularly with so apt a coupling.
“The advantage of a compact band comes out at the very opening. Bartok raises the dynamic mark from pianissimo to piano only after 26 slow bars, yet Marriner's is the first interpretation I have heard which genuinely observes that, keeping the pianissimo even when the texture thickens. The tempo is comparatively slow, an Andante tranquillo with the emphasis on "tranquillo", yet the beauty and subtlety of phrasing always lead the ear onwards. Marriner's control of dynamic is such that he distinguishes very clearly between the first fortissimo of the climax at bar 52 and the triple forte at bar 56, where with the reinforcement of the bass drum one has the obvious target point at which the music has been aiming all along. Finely controlled as both Boulez's and Solti's performances are, they reach their climax just that bit too soon. The extra refinement in Marriner's violin section comes out marvellously at such moments as the upward glissando at bar 64 and the stratospheric muted melodic line from bar 78.
“One might quibble with Marriner over his accelerando (most exactly controlled) in the final build-up to the movement's climax, but Solti, for example, is more frenetic still. Generally it is Marriner's meticulous observance of Bartok's often fussy changes of tempo which marks the performance out. In the second movement, for example, Solti tends to adopt a fairly steady pulse, smoothing over the marked changes, where Marriner with fewer players has more flexibility. The scherzando element too is pointed more delicately. The opening of the third movement brings an inner tension, a genuine hush of intensity that makes both rivals sound comparatively extrovert. Boulez and Solti both use their extra weight to give more bite to the movement's climax, but Marriner makes up in clarity of definition.
“In the finale Marriner points not only the contrasts of tempo but of style too. It has always struck me how full of parody the movement is, not just jazz but Stravinsky, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky: Marriner underlines the contrasts with more detailed pointing, and again he keeps something in reserve where others don't, so that one finishes the work not exhausted but with an upward swing. One wants to go back to the beginning again.
The performance of the Divertimento matches that of the larger-scale work, underlining the similarities between them. Compared with Dorati's performance it is far fuller of detail, and I suppose some might think Marriner too careful of phrasing in the slow movement, though the deliberate expressiveness always goes with pure, cleanly focussed, tone. Superb Argo recording with a degree of reverberation that gives body without altering the scale or (in the larger work) obscuring the essential directional effects between the two string bands on either side and the percussion section biting its way through the middle. A glorious record.”
Incidentally, the remarkable cover art was designed by George Daulby. There are superb liner notes on the reverse side of the jacket by Malcolm Rayment, printed in English only.