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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

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Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Mikrokosmos (Complete: Books I-VI)
(1926-1939)
Jenő Jando (piano); * Balázs Szokolay (piano); ** Tamara Takács (mezzo) (full track listing at end of review)
rec. Phoenix Studio, Budapest, 7-10 February (Books I-III), 27-30 April, 2005 (Books IV-VI)
NAXOS 8.557821-22 [72:28 + 75:09]
 


The six books of Bartók’s Mikrokosmos seem to fall into three sets of two. The first two books are most limited – so far as the listener’s experience is concerned – by Bartók’s pedagogic purpose, as he seeks to inculcate certain ideas and skills in the minds and fingers of young pianists (these two books were dedicated to the composer’s son Peter). In books III and IV there is a greater emphasis on artistic interest and effect, rather than so emphatically upon technical understanding and keyboard technique. In Books V and VI Bartók was – largely – writing pieces for a pianist ready, or almost ready, for concert performance. The distinction between books – the progression – is clear just from the titles. Almost all of the pieces in Book I carry ‘technical’ titles – ‘Dotted Notes’, ‘Canon at the Octave’, ‘Imitation and Counterpoint’ and so on; such titles are still to be found in Books V and VI, but more striking are titles such as ‘Jack-in-the-Box’, ‘From the Diary of a Fly’ and ‘Bagpipe Music’.
 
That is not to say that the early books are quite without interest for the general listener. Many of the ‘technical’ pieces are intriguing in the way in which they contribute to that larger project which Bartók referred to when he said that “Kodály and I wanted to make a synthesis of East and West”. Early pieces such as ‘Village Song’, ‘In Yugoslav Style’ and ‘In Oriental Style’ are particularly striking in this regard. Elsewhere, ‘Chorale’ is thoroughly ‘German’ (which predominantly means ‘Bachian’ in this context) and ‘Waves’ is unexpectedly French.
 
When Bartók recorded extracts from Mikrokosmos in 1940 (I am familiar with the reissue on SONY MPK 47676) he recorded only pieces from the later books. He was, in effect, recognising that it is in these later books that material of autonomous aesthetic interest is predominantly to be found. Indeed, in Bartók’s selection of 31 pieces all but 1 are taken from Books V and VI. Still there are many fine miniatures in Books III and IV too – as this recording makes clear. The Hommages to Bach and Schumann are delightful pieces; ‘Children’s Song’ has real charm and ‘From the Island of Bali’ is an attractive piece of exotica; ‘Melody in the Mist’ is richly evocative and ‘Notturno’ is appropriately poetic.
 
In the last two books of Mikrokosmos there is an abundance of striking short compositions, witty, learned, subtle and precise. In truth, it is perhaps only with Books V and VI that one is ever likely to want to listen to these recordings straight through, and even here the sheer number of short pieces makes for a less than ideal listening experience. But, of course, it was never Bartók’s intention that one should sit down and listen successively to all 153 pieces that make up Mikrokosmos.
 
Jandó is his an experienced Bartók player, whose earlier recordings of compatriot have attracted a good deal of praise (see reviews of Volume 2 and Volume 4). And, not surprisingly, he proves a generally reliable guide here. Perhaps there are times when the playing seems just a little routine, a little uninvolved. Certainly there are more exciting performances of individual pieces – such as Andor Foldes’ playing of a selection from Books V and VI on Deutsche Grammophon 423 858-2GDO or, convincingly lyrical, Joanna McGregor’s interpretation of the last six items (the Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythms) of Book VI on Collins Classics 1402-2. I don’t have access to any of the other complete recordings of Mikrokosmos, so I am unable to make any detailed comparisons. That by Zoltan Kocsis on Philips 462 381-2PH has been much admired, and I remember being much impressed by the parts of it that I have heard. Still, this Naxos double is a very useful and interesting ‘reference’ set to have to hand. Listening to it constantly seems to throw up echoes of other more ‘glamorous’ works by Bartók. One of the people who learned from Mikrokosmos Bartók himself was surely one of the most important.
 
Both Tamara Takács and Balázs Szokolay prove themselves effective colleagues for Jandó when called upon, but they are very much limited to supporting roles.

Glyn Pursglove
 

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Complete Listing
BOOK I
6 Unison Melodies I [0:26]
6 Unison Melodies II [00:46]
6 Unison Melodies III [00:33]
6 Unison Melodies IV [00:23]
6 Unison Melodies V [0:33]
6 Unison Melodies VI [00:25]
Dotted Notes [00:35]
Repetition I [00:34]
Syncopation I [00:40]
With Alternate Hands [00:44]
Parallel Motion [00:33]
Reflection [00:28]
Change of Position  [00:35]
Question and Answer [00:46]
Village Song [00:31]
Parallel Motion with Change of Position [00:52]
Contrary Motion [00:33]
4 Unison Melodies I [00:24]
4 Unison Melodies II [00:32]
4 Unison Melodies III [00:45]
4 Unison Melodies IV [00:25]
Imitation and Counterpoint [00:33]
Imitation and Inversion I [00:34]
Pastorale [00:36]
Imitation and Inversion II [01:01]
Repetition II [00:31]
Syncopation II [00:38]
Canon at the Octave [00:35]
Imitation Reflected [00:34]
Canon at the Lower Fifth [00:49]
Dance in Canon Form [00:38]
In Dorian Mode [01:00]
Slow Dance [00:45]
In Phrygian Mode [00:50]
Chorale [01:20]
Free Canon [00:49]
BOOK II

In Lydian Mode [00:40]
Staccato and Legato I [00:16]
Staccato and Legato (Canon) [00:27]
In Yugoslav Style [00:41]
Melody with Accompaniment [00:48]
Accompaniment in Broken Triads [01:23]
In Hungarian Style (version A: 2 pianos*; version B piano solo) [00:56]
Contrary Motion II (2 pianos)[00:20] *
Meditation [00:44]
Increasing-Diminishing [01:01]
County Fair [00:34]
In Mixolydian Mode [00:54]
Crescendo-Diminuendo [00:33]
Minuet [00:36]
Waves [01:04]
Unison Divided [00:21]
In Transylvanian Style [00:40]
Chromatics [00:19]
Triplets in Lydian Mode (2 pianos) [00:31] *
Melody in Tenths [00:18]
Accents [00:50]
In Oriental Style [00:59]
Major and Minor [00:55]
Canon with Sustained Notes [00:46]
Pentatonic Melody [00:56]
Minor Sixths in Parallel Motion [00:40]
Buzzing [00:39]
Line against Point (versions A & B)  [00:57]
Dialogue (with voice) [00:35] **
Melody Divided [01:12]
BOOK III

Thirds against a Single Voice [00:45]
Hungarian Dance (2 pianos [00:30] *
Study in Chords [01:05]
Melody against Double Notes [01:28]
Thirds [01:17]
Dragon’s Dance [00:32]
Sixths and Triads [00:40]
Hungarian Matchmaking Song (versions A* and B**) [01:23]
Triplets [00:57]
In Three Parts [00:30]
Little Study [00:36]
Five-tone scale [00:30]
Hommage ŕ Johann Sebastian Bach [00:48]
Hommage ŕ Robert Schumann [00:43]
Wandering [01:06]
Scherzo [00:33]
Melody with Interruptions [00:43]
Merriment [00:46]
Broken Chords  [01:21]
Two Major Pentachords [01:25]
Variations [01:29]
Duet for Pipes [01:02]
In our Parts I [00:54]
In Russian Style [00:38]
Chromatic Invention I [01:04]
Chromatic Invention II [00:56]
In Four Parts II [00:43]
Once Upon a Time … [00:58]
Fox Song (versions A* and B**) [01:23]
Jolts [00:51]
BOOK IV

Notturno [01:42
Thumbs Under [00:36]
Hands Crossing [01:15]
In Folk Song Style [00:46]
Diminished Fifth [00:59]
Harmonics [01:24]
Minor and Major [01:13]
Wandering through the keys (versions A and B) [01:04]
Game (with two five-tone scales) [00:57]
Children’s Song [01:14]
Melody in the Mist [01:16]
Wrestling [01:01]
From the Island of Bali [01:55]
And the Sounds Clash and Clang … [01:07]
Intermezzo [01:35]
Variations on a Folk Tune [00:59]
Bulgarian Rhythm I [01:04]
Theme and inversion [01:12]
Bulgarian Rhythm II [00:29]
Song [01:35]
Bourrée [00:59]
Triplets in 9/8 Time [00:52]
Dance in 3/4 Time [00:43]
Triads [00:56]
Two-part Study [01:04]
BOOK V

Chords Together and in Opposition [00:55]
Staccato and Legato II (versions A & B) [00:56]
Staccato [01:12]
Boating [01:28]
Change of Time [00:42]
New Hungarian Folk Song [01:08] **
Stamping Dance [01:13]
Alternating Thirds [00:49]
Village Joke [00:50]
Fourths [00:53]
Major Seconds Broken and Together [01:27]
Syncopation III [01:03]
Studies in Double Notes (versions A, B and C) [01:02]
Perpetuum mobile [01:02]
Whole-tone Scales [01:43]
Unison [01:46]
Bagpipe Music [01:13]
Jack-in-the-Box [00:53]
BOOK VI

Free Variations [01:41]
Subject and Reflection [01:17]
From the Diary of a Fly [01:27]
Divided Arpeggios [02:17]
Minor Seconds, Major Sevenths [04:36]
Chromatic Invention III (versions A and B) [02:33]
Ostinato [02:09]
March [01:53]
6 Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm I [01:50]
6 Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm II [01:08]
6 Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm III [01:23]
6 Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm IV [01:35]
6 Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm V [01:11]
6 Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm VI [01:57]
 

 

 



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