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Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Piano Sonata, Sz80a (1926). Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs, Sz74/Op. 20b (1920). Suite, Sz62/Op. 14c (1916). Out of Doors, Sz81d (1926). Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, Sz110e (1937)
Murray Perahia, eGeorg Solti (pianos); eDavid Corkhill and eEvelyn Glennie (percussion).
rec. CBS 30th Studio, New York City, 3 December 1973a, 8 Augustb, 19 Novemberc 1980, 29 March 1976d, Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Suffolk 7, 9 July 1987e. ADD/DDD

It is difficult to imagine a better introduction to the piano music of Bartók than this splendid disc. Murray Perahia’s musicality is justly famous - most notably perhaps in the music of Mozart - and it is everywhere evident here.
The disc begins with the Sonata of 1926. Immediately one is struck by the intelligence of the playing as well as by the characteristic lightness. In keeping with this view of the music, sforzati are accorded weight without unnecessary violence. For the slow movement (‘Sostenuto e pesante’), it is harmonic colour that is to the fore before a cheeky finale, very much alive, rounds the work off.
The Eight Improvisations are eminently suited to Perahia. He has the ability to imbue the most affecting simplicity with meaning – try the intimate first improvisation. Comedy is present too (the playful Fourth) as is a hushed, conspiratorial aspect (No. 7).
Both the Suite, Op 14 and the Out of Doors Suite are amongst the composer’s most famous piano music. Both, also, reveal a more extrovert side of Perahia, most notably in the ferocious rhythmic drive of the Suite’s third movement and the very opening of Out of Doors - like a punch in the stomach! Perhaps it is Out of Doors that is the best of the solo piano music here. Each movement is exquisitely sculpted; the fluid second movement and the processional third stand out.
The Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion has added interest in the presence of the great Hungarian Georg Solti in the role of pianist. Solti and Perahia seem soul-mates, enjoying an almost telepathic union. The whole interpretation breathes care in preparation and accelerando in the first movement is perfectly judged. If the sudden outbursts could have more grit, this is in keeping with the overall lyric take the players have on this work.
The excellently clear recording enables every detail of the Lento to count. There are some magical moments of scalic interchange between the two pianists here. Most tellingly, the finale marries playfulness and energy with a superb sense of the music’s architecture.
These are performances to treasure. Perahia gives the likes of Kocsis more than a run for their money in the solo works (see review); for the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, it is Argerich and Kovacevich from 1977 that provide the benchmark. Perahia and company can nevertheless hold their heads up high.
A superb survey of Bartók’s piano music. Perahia has a clear vision of what he wants to say and how he says it.

Colin Clarke



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