> Bartok - Contrasts for violin, clarinet and piano [NH]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Contrasts for violin, clarinet and piano, Sz111 (1938) ¹
Dance Suite (1925) ²
Rumanian Folk Dances (1915) ²
Allegro Barbaro (1911) ²
String Quartet No.6 in D, Sz114 (1939)³
Susanne Stanzeleit, violin¹
Gusztáv Fenyö, piano¹
Michael Collins, clarinet¹
Peter Frankl, piano²
The Lindsay Quartet³
Recorded in Christ's Hospital, Horsham October 23rd and 24th 1995¹, Henry Wood Hall June 6th - 8th 1992² and June 1989³.


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This disc is one of twenty one releases in ASV's Platinum celebration series, mid-price reissues of some of the label's highlights, alongside new recordings. Here Bartók's chamber works are afforded a highly representative compilation.

This composer is one of the great misrepresented, in that he is often perceived as difficult when that is very rarely the case. Granted that some parts of some of the string quartets do require (and reward) intensive listening, but it does a great disservice to Bartók's legacy to perpetuate the idea that his music is inaccessible or astringent. Quite how rhythmicity, humour and a true vigour have been labelled avant-garde is truly perplexing. This disc is one that highlights the chamber music but I would direct anyone who doubts Bartók's greatness and mainstream relevance first to pieces like the masterpiece Concerto for Orchestra and also the Two Portraits and Two Pictures, plus of course the various concertante works (Yo-Yo Ma's Viola Concerto, actually performed on the upright alto-violin, is a must have!).

Michael Collins is a clarinettist of true greatness and his account of the Benny Goodman commissioned Contrasts is a good example, like the last movement of the Concerto for Orchestra, of a great Eastern European spirit informed by the American surroundings of its genesis, be it the Copland-style outdoors feel of the orchestral work or the jazz soundings of the current piece.

I have to admit to a preference for the orchestral version of the (again folk inspired) Dance Suite but Peter Frankl's account for piano solo is more than adequate. The Romanian Folk Dances, despite their relative brevity are, to this listener at least, an absolutely idiomatic Bartók piece. The piano version here is no more or less affecting than the version for violin and piano duet (Joshua Bell has fairly recently made this his own although the composer's own admittedly crackly recording with Szigeti himself ought to be heard - pure electricity!). Allegro barbaro is quintessential Bartók and probably needs no analysis beyond recognition of its title. The only similar music that I can think of that even touches it is the second piece in Dohnanyi's superb Ruralia Hungarica.

The Lindsays I have long admired for their Beethoven, particularly the late quartets, and here with Bartók's final effort in the genre they do not disappoint. Despite being a great deal less immediate in appeal than the other pieces on this disc, the quartet is fully worthy of its inclusion in a representative collection and compares very favourably with the (on the face of it!) more temperamentally suited Talich Quartet on the now defunct Collins label. Less bleak than Shostakovich and with more tunes, if you are prepared to listen for them, than the comparative efforts of the second Viennese school, Bartók once again proves his humanity and as such his utter worth as a composer. I first encountered his music, in transmogrified form, as a teenager in the 70s on the first ELP LP but now he occupies a special and connected place alongside VW (Ralph, not the car!) in my affections.

This is a lovely disc, no-one buying it could be disappointed and, as a first recommendation after this, get the Naxos Viola Concerto/Two Pictures disc, the Philips/Eloquence three piano concertos with Colin Davis and Kovacevich and Concerto for Orchestra (Janssons, if you need digital, or Ormandy, both on EMI) all at bargain price. What are you waiting for?

Neil Horner

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