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Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)

Volume 3: Triolets; A trois voix; Petite Etude; Gamme pentatonique; Hommage à J.S.Bach; En errant; Accords brisé; Deux pentacordes majeur; Variations; Dou pour chalumeaux; Invention chromatique
Volume 4: Chanson de style populaire; Quinte diminuée; Mineur et majeur; A travers les tonalités; Petit jeu; Chanson d’enfants; Lutte; Bourrée; Triolets à 9/8; Danse à trois temps; Etude à deux voix
Volume 5: Accords joints et opposés; Staccato et legato; Staccato; Canotage; Danse paysanne; Burlesque rustique; Secondes majeurs, plaquées ou brisé; Perpetuum mobile; Gamme pour tons entiers;; A l’unison Cornemuse; Bouffon
Volume 6: Variations libres; Ce que la mouche raconte; Arpèges divisés; Ostinato; Danse Bulgare no.2; Danse Bulgare no.3

Huguette Dreyfus, harpsichord
Recorded April 1969 on a Neupert harpsichord


The first thing to say is that it is a revelation to hear these Bartók piano miniatures played on the harpsichord. They work wonderfully well, and before the purists leap in, it is known, as Pierre Citron confirms in the accompanying notes, that Bartók specified that many numbers from Mikrokosmos could be played on the harpsichord. He listed these (and most of them appear in this recording), and put an ‘etc’ at the end, indicating that there were certainly more.

Huguette Dreyfus is a distinguished harpsichordist, well-known for her concerts and recordings of Baroque music for the instrument. She deserves our special gratitude, though, for this visionary expansion of the repertoire, all the more remarkable as it was made back in 1969.

To repeat the point I made above, it really is remarkable how well this music suits the instrument. One simply does not miss the more subtle nuances of the piano here, because the music is predicated on rhythmic and tonal patterns, and has a strict, rather Neo-classical feel to it. This makes ‘expressive’ gradations of tone redundant or even gross, and if one listens to successful piano recordings of Mikrokosmos (including for example Raymond Clarke’s which I reviewed a week or two back), they rigorously eschew a Romantic approach.

There are six books of Mikrokosmos pieces in all, but Dreyfus draws her repertoire for this disc from Vols. 3-6, mainly because the pieces in the first two volumes are extremely short and simple. Mind you, many of those recorded are also very brief, which is why they have often been grouped together on one track. For example, track 1 consists of Triolets (‘Triplets’) at 0:42, A trois voix(‘In three parts’) at 0:28, and Petite Etude (‘Little Study’) at 0:29. As we progress through the volumes, the pieces gradually become more developed, and one is constantly coming across tiny masterpieces. To take two at random: ‘Chords together and opposed’ (Accords joints et opposés) on track 8 has terrific rhythmic bite and crunch such as one could not really create on the piano (and, interestingly, could have come straight out of the finale of Poulenc’s Concert champêtre, written a few years earlier in 1929). Then track 12 contains as its second item the unforgettable ‘From the Diary of a Fly’ (Ce que la mouche raconte), which buzzes more amazingly than ever in this harpsichord version. Dreyfus changes registration very sparingly and discreetly, but when she does so the musical effect is undoubtedly enhanced.

A couple of small quibbles; could not Harmonia Mundi have indexed each individual number separately? When there are many as five pieces (admittedly all very brief) on a single track, it can make finding any one piece very difficult and fiddly to pin down. Secondly, why give translations of the booklet notes but fail to translate the all-important titles of the pieces (which are given in French anyway rather than their original Hungarian)?

Nevertheless, quite small things these, for this is a fascinating and unique issue which I have enormously enjoyed listening to.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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