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Belá BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Divertimento for strings Sz 113 (1939) [23:43]
Sonata for two pianos and percussion Sz 110 (1937) [24:09]
Contrasts for violon, clarinet and piano Sz 111 (1938) [17:02]
Zimbler Sinfonietta/Lukas Foss
Wilfrid Parry (piano: sonata, contrasts)
Iris Loveridge (piano: sonata)
Gilbert Webster and Jack Lees (percussion)
Richard Austin (director: sonata)
Frederick Grinke (violin)
Jack Brymer (clarinet)
rec. 1955 (divertimento), 1956

This all-Bartók disc restores LP performances from the 1950s to general circulation. The English recordings of the Sonata for two pianos and percussion, and Contrasts, are anchored by pianist Wilfrid Parry, and come from BAM LD 033, though the Sonata was also released by Westminster/Argo on XWN18425. The Divertimento comes from Musical Masterpiece Society, though again it was licensed to other labels and it was indeed via one of those reissues that I first came to know it. It had more distribution, certainly, than the companion chamber works. My LP of it is CM2175, where it’s coupled with Mitropoulos’s recording of Schoenberg’s Serenade, Op.24, with an all-star line-up of players including Louis Krasner and violist Ralph Hersh. The good news is that Forgotten Records’ restoration has been cut at a higher level than the LP, without any loss of detail or distortion, so that the bite and immediacy of Lukas Foss’s 1955 direction of the Divertimento comes through with immediacy and brightness. The canonic writing is actually more audible now in this disc than in the more dampened-down LP, and the brooding melancholy of the central movement, tautly insistent and on a knife-edge, is similarly brought out. It was always possible to appreciate Foss’s knowing encouragement of the coiling string lines, but it’s a deal easier now. The folkloric zest of the finale, and its Slovak Highland music, is wittily done, not least the saucy pizzicati incident. I often use the Foss performance as an interpretative benchmark for review purposes, and whilst it is in no way competitive sonically, it is still a constant companion, and the more so now it’s been restored so well and sympathetically on CD.

The companion works come from sessions that were somewhat dryly recorded, though that quality is not wholly inappropriate. Parry is joined by fellow pianist Iris Loveridge, known for some niche recordings on disc, and by percussionists Gilbert Webster and Jack Lees. Richard Austin directs – some might recall his sympathetic accompaniment in the Delius Violin Concerto for May Harrison in an ultra-rare 1937 broadcast performance preserved on Symposium. The performance is full of timbral interest, though the recording ensures that it’s slightly more brittle-sounding than is ideal. For Contrasts the trio consists of Frederick Grinke, Jack Brymer and Parry. The lodestar here is inevitably the composer’s own recording with Szigeti and Benny Goodman. The British group has less overt personality but Grinke’s fast vibrato and taut tone jousts well with Brymer’s warmer coloration and the reading is very effective indeed. Another feather in the restoration of this label, in fact.
Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank