Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Works for Piano Duo
Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, Sz 110 (1937) [25:40]
Two Pictures for Orchestra (arr. Zoltán Kocsis), Op. 10, Sz 46 (1910): No. 1. Virágzás (In Full Flower) [7:11]; No. 2. A falu tánca (Village dance) [8:10]
Suite No. 2 for small orchestra, Sz 34 (arrangement of Suite for Two Pianos, Op. 4b, Sz 115a) (1941) [29:41]
Adrienne Soós (piano); Ivo Haag (piano); Christian Hartmann (percussion) (Sz 110); Andreas Berger (percussion) (Sz 110)
rec. December 2011, June 2012, Radiostudio, Zurich, Switzerland
TELOS MUSIC TLS 142 [70:50]
Hungarian Adrienne Soós and Ivo Haag from Switzerland formed their partnership around twenty years ago whilst students at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. No strangers to the recording studios Soós and Haag visited the Radiostudio in Zurich to record this new disc of piano duo works by Bartók.
It is not surprising that piano compositions were central to Bartók’s life. As a pianist himself he was also a professor of piano studies at the Budapest College of Music. It was during this time that Bartók discovered the riches of Hungarian folk music becoming an inveterate collector.
Bartók’s Sonata for two pianos and percussion, Sz 110 (it incorrectly states Sz 119 on the CD back cover) from 1937 was a commission from the Basel chapter of the International Society for Contemporary Music. In 1940 he expanded the score into the Concerto for two pianos, percussion and orchestra, Sz 115 which occasionally appears on the concert stage. I saw the Concerto splendidly performed in January this year by the Manchester Camerata under Gábor Takács-Nagy at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester. Initially dreamy and atmospheric the opening Assai lento - Allegro molto is variegated with thrusting outbursts that feel threatening but never quite develop into the barbaric. Innocent writing for the pianos in the central Lento, ma non troppo becomes more anxious in character before reverting to relative calm; a process that is repeated. Colourful, upbeat and highly melodic the Allegro non troppo, Finale contains much elaborate interplay between pianos and percussion. The increasing rhythmic drive loses its sharp focus as it begins to fragment resulting in an ending that is as gentle as one can imagine.

From 1910 the Two Pictures for Orchestra, Sz 46 was one of the most popular orchestral works performed during Bartók’s lifetime. Here Soós and Haag make the world première recording of the arrangement for two pianos by Hungarian pianist, conductor and composer Zoltán Kocsis. Opening with Picture No. 1 Virágzás (In Full Flower) the impressionist feel of the music quickly becomes evident. Affectionately poetic in character the writing evokes a verdant summer countryside scene. Rhythmic and suggestive of a rustic dance the Picture No. 2 A falu tánca (Village dance) is highly spirited but never becomes uncomfortably riotous.
The four movement Suite No. 2 for small orchestra, Sz 34 is the first score in which Bartók incorporated Hungarian folk music. He worked on it from 1905 through to 1907 undertaking revisions in 1920 and again in 1943. This is Bartók’s own arrangement of the Suite for two pianos, Sz 115; the one that he prepared in 1941. Opening with a Serenata. Commodo the music has the feel of moonlit tranquillity and a curious sense of innocence. As one might expect the highly rhythmic Allegro diabolico is very brisk, loud and certainly brash. I found the Scena della Puszta. Andante comforting and rather childlike in its innocence. A central section of additional weight and volume gives way to calming music with a distinct rippling rather aqueous effect. Marked Per finire. Comodo the Finale is calm and relaxed music that only tentatively suggests that it will become angry.
From my experience Bartók’s music still presents difficulties for music-lovers. As one might expect from works for two pianos much of the music here is highly percussive yet nothing is too challenging and there is certainly much to enjoy. Soós and Haag make worthy advocates for this fine music which is played with conviction and incisive rhythmic sense. They have the benefit of first class sound being especially well balanced.
Michael Cookson
Worthy advocates for fine music played with conviction and incisive rhythmic sense. 

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