Marin Alsop's Bartok cycle on Naxos has struck me as attractive and middle of the road. Bartok wrote a handful of orchestral masterpieces that have been recorded by great conductors with virtuoso orchestras. It's hard to get excited about middling good. Alsop's tactic in the Concerto for Orchestra is to back away from the bravura and flash of most readings - and that's a viable approach. The result is unusually low key, ad since Naxos' recording doesn't throw us into the middle of the orchestra, the reading seems even more low key.
But there were times n every movement that low key turned to slack as the rhythmic edges were smoothed out. For all the nice atmospheric touches, especially in the night music that begins the third movement, my attention wandered. Perhaps there's no going back now that the Concerto for Orch. has become a showpiece. In the finale, which is the most difficult music to play technically, Alsop's cautious tempo gives the impression of trying to make things easier for the Baltimore musicians.
The same holds true for the Music fro Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, although being less frequently played and not a showpiece that everyone has recorded a hundred times, the score gives Alsop more room to try something new. She romanticizes the opening movement, which probably isn't what the composer intended - he set it out with mathematical precision - but her way is appealing. The performance as a whole benefits from the clarity of the recorded sound, which is quite natural at capturing the strings and piano, a big plus compared with older recordings. We're still in the middle of the road, and Hungarian flavor isn't on the menu, yet this reading of MFSPC did hold my attention from beginning to end.