...The detail here is fabulous, and the vivid technicolour score blazes with sinister...
Matt Fernand 2002
So how do you like your Bartók? Spiky, dissonant, aggressive, edgy - those are the kinds of descriptions you hear of the orchestral music most often, and not just from people who dislike Bartók...but luscious, lascivious, sumptuous and sexy?
Welcome to Riccardo Chailly's reading of The Miraculous Mandarin, a nasty little tale of urban depravity. Here's the moral vacuum of the metropolis meeting a supernatural lust that, at least until it's sated, is the equal of anything the streets can throw at it; Bartok's Mandarin is as resilient as Rasputin.
In the centre of the big-city bustle, three thugs use a prostitute to lure men to their room, where they're mugged. But their third victim is the Mandarin, a strange, exotic and (to the girl at least) terrifying figure. She dances for him, he embraces her, and the robbers strike. They smother the Mandarin...but he gets up, eyes blazing. They stab him, but he still leaps at the girl, unable to take his eyes off her. They hang him from the light fitting, and his body begins to glow with a greenish-blue light - and still he stares at the girl. Suddenly she understands what she must do, and as the Mandarin leaps at her, she embraces him. His longing stilled, his wounds begin to bleed, and after a short struggle, he dies.
Chailly and the Concertgebouw have recorded the whole ballet score, not just the suite you more usually hear - and with the suite you miss the Mandarin's impression of a standard lamp, and his death throes. Which is sort of missing the point, isn't it?
The detail here is fabulous, and the vivid technicolour score blazes with sinister then supernatural life - it's a superb recording. The Mandarin's lust is the more believable because of Chailly's passionately charged reading, and there's a sympathy for the girl who has to lure the victims and dance for them, a tenderness that makes more obvious her alliance with the Mandarin; they are two natural forces against the corrupt civilisation that surrounds them.