Don't let the 1999 release date that Amazon lists fool you--that's the date of the CD reissue. Martinon is long gone from his leadership of the CSO. Unfortunately my copy of this disc, purchased here in Hong Kong, is in Japanese, so I can't tell you the actual date of the original recording, but I'd guess it's about 40 years ago.
In those days, conductors were willing, even enthusiastic, to program and release music like this--the Bartok and especially the Varese are totally uncompromising pieces, full of excitement, loaded with percussion and brass, dissonant and noisy to the extreme, and totally thrilling. Today, alas, a different mindset has taken over the world (and marketing) of contemporary art music and even a piece as conventional, melodic, and tonal as Hindemith's Noblissima Visione is rarely programmed. We should be grateful for RCA for re-releasing this disc, but I would be more grateful if they would make a serious commitment to finding and recording the present day Bartoks and Vareses.
Now to the music. As I've said, the outer works on the disc are the most extreme, with some relief offered by the central work. It's fascinating programming, and the performances and recording quality are very good indeed in the Varese. This is a real challenge to record, with tons of percussion instruments and huge dynamic extremes, and I'm very impressed with this version. Hindemith's work is relatively conventional--played beautifully and well recorded, too, especially the brass climax of the Passacaglia. It's in the Bartok that I'm slightly disappointed. Again, the piece is a monster, and the CSO and Martinon do it justice, with incredibly brisk tempi creating a real thrill ride. But the recording and/or performance is a little unbalanced, with the final rush to the end with the imitative tune thrown throughout the orchestra not coming off as well as it might. The problems are great--how do you match a viola section against the percussion, for example? And yet, I've heard this piece in concert by lesser ensembles that came off more successfully. I suspect it is indeed the recording technique and technology of the time that is lacking; but regardless I think a more recent version of Miraculous Mandarin with an equally fine orchestra will serve you better.
An aside--I'm often amused by marketing differences in the same product between east and west. For some reason, RCA released this in the East without the "High Performance" label--it's labelled perhaps more appropriately "Vintage Collection". The cover art is the same, only larger. I don't know what's inside the western Disc, but oddly (and somewhat insultingly) inside my copy there is the old write-up "What is Stereophonic Sound" from the liner notes of the original LP, with no indication that these notes are in fact decades, perhaps even a half century old. This tickles me--imagine telling the Japanese, the leading gadget fans of the world, what stereophonic sound is in the year 2003! I guess I just have to chalk it up to some bizarre marketing Arcana that neither Varese nor I could ever understand. I suppose Marketers are now the Miraculous Mandarins, although whether their Visions are Noble is debatable...