The National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zoltán Kocsis has made an extraordinary CD, which was no easy matter, because with the exception of the Hungarian Peasant Songs (1933), it comprises of regularly performed works.
For me, Bartók's American compositions represent a decline in his oeuvre and the arguments of László Somfai in the superb accompanying booklet do not sway my opinion in this. But any sceptic listening to this recording of Concerto (1943) would be unsettled because it truly presents a new facet to this work that is generally regarded as overplayed. The “curtain theme” of the first movement is evidently a relation of Blue Beard, in the third we sense the weeping of Mandarin, while in the second movement we hear woodwind sounds as never before. The fourth movement is caustically grotesque, while the closing movement hurtles to its conclusion (from 7'32″, from the unrolling of the primeval fog) with a climax beyond belief, where it is also transfigured – pathos but also showing the white of its tribal tooth. The perfectly performed solos, the superb proportions (the placing of the small drum in the foreground), the astoundingly fresh tempos, the richness of colours – in short: in every bar we find the considered illumination of not just a great pianist but also a conductor of importance.
Dance Suite (1923) is also a popular work, but perhaps only the greatest Bartók pianist of our age is able to reveal with these kinds of percussion effects (with a truly superb bassoon solo) the terrifying shambling of the introduction, its antediluvian dragging of feet, of course always held together tautly and with an iron fist. And as for the dramaturgy of sound colours! And naivety of the whole work that speaks to the heart!
A revelatory CD.
Hungaroton Classic, 2004
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