Concerto for Orchestra; Dance Suite; Hungarian Peasant Songs
Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra
Hungaroton- HSACD 32187(SACD)
Artistic Duality 10 / 10 Sound Duality
Hungaroton's first SACD release is a knockout! Zoltán Kocsis, already acclaimed as perhaps the finest Bartók pianist alive, proves equally adept as a conductor. Indeed, there is no finer performance of the Dance Suite. Not only does Kocsis characterize the music's spiky rhythms to perfection, he has the orchestra playing like a pack of demons, the excitement unrelenting. And yet he never loses sight of the work's abundance of interesting and evocative woodwind detail, and he encourages a brilliantly clear and colorful contribution from the pianists (it's a four-hand part and very important texturally). What more can I say about a performance where even a usually uneventful moment such as the harp glissando leading into the first appearance of the ritornello theme stands out for its exquisite timing? In short, I'd recommend this disc just for this remarkable performance, but the rest of it is just as good.
One of the problems with Hungarian performances of Bartók historically has been that the orchestras were less than first rate. Not here. The Hungarian National Philharmonic brass attack their first movement fugato in the Concerto for Orchestra with virtuosic abandon. Strings (always a Hungarian strong suit) offer passion combined with spot-on accuracy in the whiplash opening of the finale. All of the winds are fine, but the bassoons are amazing. At the opening of the Concerto's second movement, in the fugal episodes in the finale, or at the beginning of the Dance Suite, they quite literally steal the show. But then Kocsis has everyone totally energized, in fact playing the work a bit quicker than the composer's carefully notated timings. From the third movement on this performance simply rocks; you won't find any competing version more viscerally exciting while at the same time faithful to both the letter and the spirit of Bartók's score. The inclusion of the rarely played Hungarian Peasant Songs makes a welcome bonus to a stunning program.
Happily, Hungaroton's sonics, whether in SACD multi-channel or plain stereo, are fully worthy of the performances. In surround format, there's no loss of coherence to the soundstage, even though the orchestral image has a bit more center than it does in stereo. Rear channels offer a touch of ambience and added depth, but (thank god) nothing more. If you love Bartók, then you simply have to own this, one of the finest examples in recent years of the sort of proprietary mastery and stylistic empathy that we always expect in native performances of music by local artists, but so seldom actually encounter. It's an eleven.