Children is a fascinating document. Its value transcends pedagogy or ethnomusicology,
for the composer sets about documenting his own very personal
responses to the folk melodies, without changing their basic
simplicity. Repeated verses enable Bartók to set a different
slant on the various tunes by a variety of methods. Markings
such as rubato and parlando enable a sense of freedom to speak.
Dezsö Ránki is fully equipped for the task of realising the
elusive nature of these pieces. While able to project the simplicity
so often found here - try the very first piece of Volume 1 –
there are four volumes by the way - his variety of touch is
such that boredom is forever kept away. His 'hard' staccato
is exactly that without being hammered – try track 55, an Allegro
from Volume 3. Rhythm, so vital in this composer's music, becomes
its very life-pulse. Importantly, also, Ranki is able to inject
real light and shade into these infinitely varied little pieces.
Repeated listening reveals their simplicity to be deceptive.
As in the case of fairy tales, the surface charm conceals deeper
a method of combining primitive melody with more modern harmony,
these pieces are textbook examples. The composer wrote in 1931:
'the more primitive the melody, the more idiosyncratic can be
the harmonisation or accompaniment'. I would suggest that it
is the universe of possibilities that gives the individual works
their infectious exuberance – a spirit of discovery shared fully
by the pianist-interpreter here. The composer's achievement
is all the more remarkable because the folkish character of
the pieces is not only honoured but positively enhanced.
Cahn's booklet notes refer to a 'playful immediacy' which is
'a natural element of both folk music and of children'. It is
everywhere to be found here.
analogue recording is excellent, with great sense of presence.
Warner Apex has done Bartók a great service in reissuing these
performances, each one a little jewel.