Bartok: Kossuth / Meister, Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra

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BARTÓK Kossuth. Concerto for Orchestra. Rumanian Dances Cornelius Meister, cond; Vienna RSO CPO 777784 (SACD: 65:27)

Cornelius Meister and the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra are going to find it hard to compete in Bartók’s very popular Concerto for Orchestra. Among the composer’s orchestral works, the concerto is the most often recorded, with approximately 100 versions currently listed. And among those, there are some classic standouts—Reiner with the Chicago Symphony, for one, or Antal Doráti and the London Symphony Orchestra, for another. There are many other worthy contenders as well. For something more recent, I recommended a recording by Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on Naxos in 36:2.

At the bottom of the popularity list is Kossuth , with possibly fewer currently available recordings than any of Bartók’s other orchestral works. Bartók was only 22 and filled with patriotic fervor in 1903 when he completed this symphonic poem, his first major orchestral score, composed as a tribute to the hero of the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1848–49, Lajos Kossuth. It is said that Bartók was heavily influenced as a student at the Budapest Royal Academy of Music by his encounter with the tone poems of Richard Strauss, and that Kossuth reflects that influence, as well as the influence of Liszt’s tone poems.

We tend to discount the early and formative works of many famous composers—Bruckner, Wagner, Mahler, and Strauss, to name a few—because the music isn’t immediately recognizable or representative of the composers these men would become. Such is the case with Bartók’s Kossuth , a 21-minute tone poem that could easily be taken for a work by Strauss. As a result, the piece appears to have only about a half-dozen recordings, with Amazon listing a few more than ArkivMusic does, though some of Amazon’s listings are only on vinyl or are performed in the composer’s original piano version.

I like Meister’s concerto for orchestra. His opening introduction, mysterious and atmospheric, is very well done. I can’t say the same, however, for the second movement (“Game of Pairs”); at 7:00 it feels cautious and tentative compared to Reiner’s 5:58. Even Alsop’s 6:39, not that much faster than Meister’s, is more teasing and playful. Tempo-wise, Meister’s third movement (“Elegia”), 7:21, is faster than Reiner’s, 7:59, but not far off Alsop’s, 7:30. Again, though, Reiner is best at capturing the shadowy, spectral character of Bartók’s “night music.” Meister makes a comeback in the concerto’s final two movements, leading an adroitly maladroit “Intermezzo interrotto,” with pertinently impertinent trombone glissandos, and a rousing finale.

Make no mistake; this is not a run-of-the-mill performance of the concerto, it’s a very fine one, even if the young Cornelius Meister—31 in 2011 when he made this recording—was not as seasoned as the 67-year-old Reiner when he made his iconic recording of the piece in 1955. But in addition to this being a much better than average performance, CPO’s surround-sound recording will bowl you over. The wide-angle spectrum of the soundstage and the dynamic range are enormously impressive.

As for Kossuth , given the limited number of choices, you’re not likely to do better than this performance, and for good measure, Meister and Vienna Radio Symphony round off their program with Bartók’s ever popular Rumanian Dances . So far, Meister hasn’t recorded much, but he is definitely an up and coming conductor to watch. Recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 777784-2

  • UPC: 761203778423

  • Label: CPO

  • Composer: Béla Bartók

  • Conductor: Cornelius Meister

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra


  1. Kossuth, Sz 21

    Composer: Béla Bartók

    Ensemble: Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra

    Conductor: Cornelius Meister

  2. Romanian Folkdances for String Orchestra, Sz 68

    Composer: Béla Bartók

    Ensemble: Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra

    Conductor: Cornelius Meister

  3. Concerto for Orchestra, Sz 116

    Composer: Béla Bartók

    Ensemble: Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra

    Conductor: Cornelius Meister