> The World of Bela Bartok [TB]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
The World Of Béla Bartók

Suite no. 1, Opus 3

Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Antal Dorati
Assai lento - Allegro molto (movement I from Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion)

Vladimir and Vovka Ashkenazy (pianos)
David Corkhill and Andrew Smith (percussion)
Doors IV & V (from Bluebeard's Castle)

Walter Berry (Bluebeard), Christa Ludwig (Judith)
London Symphony Orchestra/István Kertesz
Mikrokosmos, Book VI, Nos. 148-153

Zoltán Kocsis (piano)
Adagio (second movement from Piano Concerto No. 2)

Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti
Elegia (third movement from Concerto for Orchestra)

Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti
Fast Dance (third movement from Contrasts for violin, clarinet and piano)

Arvid Engegard (violin), Elmar Schmid (clarinet) András Schiff (piano)
Allegro molto (fourth movement from Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta)

Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti
Rec Decca, 1966-1994
DECCA 470 129 2 [73.00]

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Decca has repackaged its famous LP series, 'The World of . . . ', for the CD age; but whereas the previous incarnation usually brought prospective purchasers a collection of representative complete pieces, now the trend is towards movements culled from their home, à la Classic FM. It is tempting to get on one's high horse and dismiss the enterprise. Except, of course, that all listeners have to start somewhere, and who knows where that might be. At an appealing price this compilation does give an intelligently chosen selection of key works by Bartók, in performances which sound splendid and are given by major artists associated with the composer. It's all a matter of who will enjoy less than the complete pieces. Had Bartók wanted these movements to be played separately, he would have written them as individual works . . . .

That said, there are some distinguished performances here, and of complete pieces too. The mainstay of the selection comes from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Georg Solti, a conductor who was always strongly associated with the composer. The recordings and performances are nothing if not vivid, and as such are always compelling and idiomatic. Whether the chosen selection is anything other than arbitrary is quite another matter: a fast movement here, a slow movement there, seem to be the only criteria. Perhaps this inevitably creates some kind of musical balance, but it's hard to be really enthusiastic when the complete pieces can offer so many more rewards and be true to Bartók's intentions.

In this sense the greatest satisfaction can probably be drawn from the selection of short piano pieces from Mikrokosmos, which are idiomatically performed by Bartók's compatriot Zoltán Kocsis. This music is not at all famous, not often performed, but it stands up well to scrutiny here, and does give an insight into how important folk music sources were to this composer.

The earliest of the recordings, of Bluebeard's Castle conducted by Istvan Kertész, still sounds well. Otherwise they are all relatively recent, though no date is given for Dorati's reading of the early Suite. The recorded sound is good or better for all these performances, but somehow the compilation seems less than the sum of its parts.

Terry Barfoot


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