The Prince of the Pagodas and The Miraculous Mandarin – both titles suggest Oriental fairytales. But while Britten set a fantastic scenario for choreographer John Cranko, Bartók controversially evoked an expressionist urban nightmare.
In his variation-based score, Britten salutes Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and the Javanese gamelan. Bartók, with atonality, complex textures and rhythms, and daring orchestration, illustrates vice and violence as a Chinese mandarin miraculously survives repeated murder attempts, only dying when his lust is assuaged.
The Prince of the Pagodas
Music: Benjamin Britten
Conductor: Oliver Knussen
The Miraculous Mandarin
Music: Béla Bartók
London Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra
Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst
Running time: 147.62 mins (2 CDs)