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
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?