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Bartok Records

Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Variations on ‘Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen’, S180 (1862) [16’20]. Weihnachtsbaum, S186 (1874-76) [17’30]: An old Christmas Carol; Scherzoso; Carillon; Ancient Provençal Christmas Carol; Evening Bells; Formerly; In the Polish Manner.
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)

Three Rondos, Sz84 (1916-27) [7’15]. Sonatina, Sz55 (1915) [4’35]. For Children, Sz42 (excerpts) (1908-09) [6’40].
Ilona Kabos (piano).
Rec. in New York Town Hall in 1952. ADD

Ilona Kabos was born in Budapest in 1893 and died in London in 1973. The works on the present disc post-date her critically well-received American debut by one year and reveal a mature artist at the height of her powers. Indeed, this is treasurable Liszt playing – a truly virtuoso technique allied with real devotion to the spirit of the music at hand. This disc deserves wide currency.

The famous Variations on ‘Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen’ represent Liszt at his most monumental. Kabos seems to have complete identification with this composer. The virtuoso outburst around 6’30 in appears here as an integral part of the musical argument. As the reading progresses, it becomes obvious that Kabos feels close to Liszt’s darker side (one can hear this most clearly, possibly, around the 11-12 minute mark). The ominous low sonorities at around 12’25 reveal further evidence of this, giving a massive quality to the climax and putting the very interior, intimate chorale at 13’10 into high relief. Furthermore, the recording copes supremely well with the extremes of dynamic range, whole at the same time containing a real warmth.

Weihnachtsbaum is a work replete with delights, yet there appears to be no really outstanding version in the catalogues right now. Kabos’s response is at once keen and intimate. The ‘Scherzoso’ reveals cheeky staccato, retaining the tone of each and every note; The ‘Old Christmas Carol’ (the first excerpt) begins like ‘O come, all ye faithful’, but then intriguingly steers away. Very sweet and unmistakably Liszt, Kabos’s voice-leading in the middle section is a dream. She is able to conjure up real peace, yet finishes the set with an extrovert ‘In the Polish manner’.

Clearly Bartók was another composer close to Kabos’s heart. The Three Rondos, Sz84 reveal a mature interpreter at work. In the eloquent simplicity of the very opening of the first, Kabos reveals herself to be a more mature Bartók player than June de Toth, whose recent set on Eroica Records pales in comparison. The second Rondo is more incisive, more biting yet barer, and Kabos plays up its modernism. In fact the final two Rondos share a common language (the third in ‘barbaro’ even when subdued).

The popular, short Sonatina is distinguished particularly for the poignancy Kabos brings to the first movement, and she realises all the charm of the excerpts from For Children, which include a music-box impression and, as played here, much delicacy.

A highly enjoyable collection and a fitting memorial to an artist to be reckoned with.
Colin Clarke


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