Decca hit on a formula for success by making Dutoit and his Montreal orchestra the successor to Ansermet as their in-house French conductor (even though both were Swiss). There was a youthful aura around conductor and musicians; the company provided bright, vivid sound that never failed to earn raves; the repertoire was aimed at the French-speaking world but with excursions into other musical realms, mostly Russian. Dutoit proved to be an ideal conductor of light, breezy music,, the only glitch being that he seemed glib and bland in major works like Berlioz's Les Troyens. Would Bartok also prove too challenging?
The externals are all in place: this is a fine-sounding CD played with polish by the Montreal SO, and the pacing moves ahead. But the same problem soon becomes evident -- Dutoit skates over the surface of the first movement of the Concerto for Orchestra, making flashy gestures that reveal nothing beyond flash. This is like a poor man's version of equally unrevealing but more refined performances under Ozawa during his exhausting tenure in Boston. the Game of Pairs clucks along without incident. The Elegie begins without atmosphere and continues in the same vein. The Intermezzo's beautiful melody is delivered without passion or affection, and its satiric jab at Shostakovich isn't much of a lark, despite a nice raspberry from the trombones. The Finale, which is technically quite challenging, receives a good-enough reading without raising anyone's blood pressure once you've heard either of Solti's readings, among others. Still, it comes closest to making an impression here.
The Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta is a more rigorous work and demands incisive thinking on the conductor's part, as well as a mastery of tricky cross-rhythms. Dutoit is slack too much of the time, but he does know how to handle rhythm, which is to the good. If only he didn't go out of his way to prettify Bartok's astringent string sound. the reading as a whole is soft-grained, which I suppose is how Dutoit's fans like it -- the formula has worked for a long time.