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Bartok Records $17

Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Sonatas for Violin and Piano No. 1, Sz75 (1921) [33'55]; No. 2, Sz76 (1922) [20'40].
Robert Mann (violin); Leonid Hambro (piano).
Rec. auditorium, Pequot Library, Southport, Connecticut, USA, 1950s. mono ADD

Short measure at 55 minutes, certainly, but this is a wonderful CD. It is on a level with Susskind's excellent Wooden Prince (BR1308: review ) and should be mentioned in the same breath. The only pity is the presentation, in which the booklet notes only refer to the First Sonata and say, '(the) remarks are, to a large extent, also applicable to the second [sonata], written one year later'.

Robert Mann was founder and first violin of the Juilliard Quartet until 1998; Leonid Hambro has been official pianist of the New York Philharmonic. Together they perform miracles, seemingly perfectly attuned to Bartók's idiom. Hambro's roulades are a pleasure, while it is Mann's expressive playing that remains in the memory. Both players demonstrate an affinity for the fantastic. Of particular note are Mann's intensely aching lines and the lightness and sure rhythm of Hambro. Try the opening of the second movement for lyricism defined, on the long solo line, here sweet-toned and impressively captured by the 1950s recording. If only the piano when it enters (around 1'30) had had more body. Yet the nightmarish processional later in this movement is visceral in its effect; violin stopping is a model of its kind. The folksy, gutsy violin playing of the finale in tandem with some superb piano playing brings us close to the spirit of the composer. The closing pages are like an Hungarian hoe-down. Magnificent.

The Second Sonata poses other challenges, and ones that are met wholeheartedly by Mann and Hambro. The players seem to see a kinship between this piece and Schoenberg's much later (1949) Op. 47 Phantasy. The overall conception is absolutely flawless, as is the players' conviction. The dance sections are infectious and tuning and timing are spot-on. This is a pleasure to listen to.

Strongly recommended.

Colin Clarke



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