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Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945)
For Children, Sz42 (1908-1909)
Dezsö Ránki (piano)
Rec. Teldec Studio, Berlin in October 1976. ADD
WARNER APEX 2564 62188-2 [73:29]

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For Children is a fascinating document. Its value transcends pedagogy or ethnomusicology, for the composer sets about documenting his own very personal responses to the folk melodies, without changing their basic simplicity. Repeated verses enable Bartók to set a different slant on the various tunes by a variety of methods. Markings such as rubato and parlando enable a sense of freedom to speak.

Pianist Dezsö Ránki is fully equipped for the task of realising the elusive nature of these pieces. While able to project the simplicity so often found here - try the very first piece of Volume 1 – there are four volumes by the way - his variety of touch is such that boredom is forever kept away. His 'hard' staccato is exactly that without being hammered – try track 55, an Allegro from Volume 3. Rhythm, so vital in this composer's music, becomes its very life-pulse. Importantly, also, Ranki is able to inject real light and shade into these infinitely varied little pieces. Repeated listening reveals their simplicity to be deceptive. As in the case of fairy tales, the surface charm conceals deeper truths.

As a method of combining primitive melody with more modern harmony, these pieces are textbook examples. The composer wrote in 1931: 'the more primitive the melody, the more idiosyncratic can be the harmonisation or accompaniment'. I would suggest that it is the universe of possibilities that gives the individual works their infectious exuberance – a spirit of discovery shared fully by the pianist-interpreter here. The composer's achievement is all the more remarkable because the folkish character of the pieces is not only honoured but positively enhanced.

Peter Cahn's booklet notes refer to a 'playful immediacy' which is 'a natural element of both folk music and of children'. It is everywhere to be found here.

The analogue recording is excellent, with great sense of presence. Warner Apex has done Bartók a great service in reissuing these performances, each one a little jewel.

Colin Clarke


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