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Béla BARTÓK(1881-1945) Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, BB 115 (Sz 110) (1937) [26:38]
Out of Doors, BB 89 (Sz 81) (1926) [14:48]
Sonatina, BB 69 (Sz 55) (1915) [4:03]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART(1756-1791) Andante with Five Variations in G major for Piano Duet, K501 (1786) [7:23]
Claude DEBUSSY(1862-1918) En blanc et noir (1915) [15:14]
Martha Argerich, Stephen Kovacevich (pianos) (Bartók Sonata, Mozart, Debussy); Willy Goudswaard, Michael de Roo (percussion) (Bartók Sonata); Stephen Kovacevich (piano) (Bartók Out of Doors, Sonatina)
rec. Wembley Town Hall, London, UK, September 1969 (Bartók Out of Doors, Sonatina), May 1977 (Bartók Sonata, Mozart, Debussy)
DECCA 478 2467 [68:59]
This CD is of material that first came out on the Philips label
and was then reissued in the Decca Originals series. The record
of the works for two pianos was issued separately and became
an instant classic. Kovacevich’s recordings of the solo works
are from eight years earlier when the pianist was in his late
twenties. While all of these are worthy, the account of the
Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion alone would make this an
indispensable disc. For many this performance has never been
The Sonata is one of Bartók’s seminal works, though not as popular
for some reason as the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta
composed the year before the Sonata. It has much in common with
that work and at the same time looks forward to the humor of
the Divertimento for Strings of 1939. The composer adapted the
Sonata as a Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in 1940, but
that version only dilutes the power of the original. Argerich,
Kovacevich and their percussionists project all the power, mystery
and humor in the music in a superb performance and in stunning
sound that impresses as much as any recording today.
The other Bartók pieces, performed by Kovacevich, conclude the
disc. The Out of Doors suite is from the composer’s “wild and
wooly” period of the 1920s. Kovacevich clearly has the measure
of this music, even if he does not displace Max Levinson’s much
wilder performance from 1997 (on N2K-10028) in my affections.
Kovacevich concentrates more on structure and less on the moods
of the various numbers in the suite than Levinson. He is especially
good in the quiet sections, such as the Night’s Music (No. 4).
The early Sonatina is one of Bartók’s folk-inspired creations
that could serve as an encore for the disc as a whole. This
is the same music that Bartók orchestrated in 1931 and called
Dances of Transylvania - performed brilliantly by Iván Fischer
and the Budapest Festival Orchestra on Philips 454 430-2. While
the piano original is very enjoyable, the orchestral one is
that much more colorful. Kovacevich’s performance of the original
The other major attraction on this CD is Debussy’s four-hand
work, En blanc et noir. Like his other late chamber masterpieces,
the sonatas for violin, cello, and flute, viola, and harp, En
blanc et noir is more modern and abstract than Debussy’s
earlier, more Impressionist works. As with the Bartók Sonata,
it receives a terrific performance from Argerich and Kovacevich.
The final piece comes between the Sonata and the Debussy suite
and acts more or less as a palate cleanser: Mozart’s Andante
with variations, which in spite of its short duration, is deceptive
in its apparent simplicity. It brings out the composer’s genius
just as effectively as some of his longer, more substantial
works. Again the piano duo fully conveys the delights and the
subtleties of this Mozart miracle. Here, as throughout the disc,
the piano sound captured is clear and warm — in a word, wonderful.
In every way, then, this is a disc not to be missed. The production
values are more than adequate. David Gutman’s notes focus on
the present artists’ performances and recordings of the works
and even include quotes from previous reviews. There is one
inconsistency, however, concerning Stephen Kovacevich’s name.
On the booklet front-cover it is listed as Stephen Bishop Kovacevich,
the name he used after being first known as simply Stephen Bishop.
In the booklet itself and elsewhere, it is just Stephen Kovacevich,
as he prefers it now.
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