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By Arrangement
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)

Violin Sonata No.2, Sz76/BB85 (1922) arr. viola and piano [20:59]
Sonata for solo violin, Sz117/BB124 (1943-44) arr. solo viola [29:07]
Violin Rhapsody No.1, Sz86/BB94 (1928) arr. viola and strings [10:51]
Vidor Nagy (viola, conductor)
Péter Nagy (piano)
Divertimento Budapest
rec. October 2015, Concert Hall of the Szent István Music School, Budapest (Sonata No.2) and in St Columba’s Church of Scotland, Scottish Mission, Budapest (Rhapsody No.1), and November 2015, Liederkranzhalle, Botnang, Stuttgart (Solo Sonata)

I don’t think it really requires precedent, given that inveterate transcribers such as the pioneering Lionel Tertis devoted a great deal of energy in fashioning their own arrangements, to validate Vidor Nagy’s transcription for viola of Bartók’s original works for violin. In any case one can always cite the composer’s own practice of arranging pieces for different instruments or combinations of instrument, such as taking parts of the early First Violin Concerto and arranging them for piano. Presenting things in different guises is hardly a compositional novelty.

So, for those keen to hear how these three pieces sound on the viola, Nagy’s disc offers a good opportunity so to do. He’s now something of a veteran and those with long memories may recall that he recorded the Rhapsody No.1 in viola guise in September 1990, albeit with piano accompaniment, played by Günter Schmidt, on Audite 95424. One quixotic feature of this new disc is that each piece is recorded in a different location, though all were taped within a six-week period between October-November 2015. Fortunately, acoustical discrepancies don’t make themselves too apparent, and in any case the Rhapsody requires string accompaniment which changes the nature of the balance between solo viola and accompanying forces.

The Sonata No.2 with pianist Péter Nagy, receives a whole-hearted reading, rhythmically quite vital and with canny dynamics. This is especially true of the second of the two movements, the Allegretto. Some imprecisions are perhaps an inevitable corollary of Nagy’s playing, and there are times when his two lowest strings sound unapologetically guttural – a function of their relative slowness to sound.

The unremitting demands of the Solo Sonata are met with trenchant commitment. This unforgiving work would defeat many a violinist let alone violist and it’s no secret that Nagy is now in his 70s. Some of the writing, however, sounds awkward and I don’t feel the work soars in the viola’s hands. A very obvious edit in the opening Chaconne attests to the unrelieved technical complexities of the movement. The Rhapsody sees Nagy self-directing the Divertimento Budapest. The opening of the Friss is always very Appalachian Spring-sounding, and it works well here. Nagy’s tone, as well, takes on a huskier quality vis-a-vis the violin counterpart.

Toccata customarily provides good and thoughtful notes, as here. I don’t think this release is quite up to its best level, though there is doubtless a specialised market for it.

Jonathan Woolf



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