In 1990, when Dohnanyi decided to pair the twentieth century's two most famous concertos for orchestra, by Bartok and Lutoslawski, no one had ever done it before, and even now only one other recording, by Paavo Jarvi and the Cincinnati Orch., has copied the program. I imagine that the novelty of a concerto that features an entire orchestra, which Bartok invented, has worn off. the reason that Lutoslawki's version isn't paired with its predecessor is that the works are so uneven; the Gramophone reviewer of this album sniffed that the Lutoslawski is "more chaotic than composed," and he went on to praise Dohnanyi for keeping the anarchy under control.
That same reviewer complained that the Barok was bland and detached as conducted by Dohnanyi. It's undeniable that dramatic contrasts are smoothed out, the pacing tends to be on the cautious side, and the funny parts aren't funny. But Dohnanyi, Hungarian by ancestry but very German in musical temperament, can't be faulted for the clarity of the playing heard in in detailed, natural sound -- Decca lives up to its reputation. There's considerable intensity in the Elegie, even if the other movements are on the bland side. Bartok had his own detached, analytical side, so perhaps that's the best justification for this precise, cool reading.
The more interesting performance is the Lutoslawki, which can benefit from restraint and refinement. I dare say the Cleveland Orch. brings more pedigree to the music than any other on disc. the splashy, at times crude effects that the composer aimed at stir up some extra energy from Dohnanyi, and all told, we go on a thrill-a-minute ride that's much more gripping than the Bartok. This may be the one recording anyone needs to have; I doubt any major conductor will approach the score again for quite a while.