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Bartók and Baroque
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)

Selections from Mikrokosmos BB 105, Sz. 107 (1926-1939)
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
From: Wohltemperiertes Klavier I, BWV 847 (1722): Präludium & Fuge in c [3:38]
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Pičces de Clavecin, 3e Livre, 18e Ordre (1722) [16:46]
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonata in E-dur, K 162 [5:35]
Helga Váradi (harpsichord)
rec. 2016, Musée d’art et d’histoire de Neuchâtel, Switzerland.
CLAVES 50-1807 [56:50]

The booklet cover for this release has a quote from Bartók’s son Peter, an anecdote about a visit to a family friend who had a harpsichord. “Both my father and I were intrigued by the instrument, especially the capability of coupling the keyboards. He later indicated in his preface to Mikrokosmos that ten of its piano pieces were suitable for playing on the harpsichord.” Good keyboard music often works well on any instrument, and the quirky Hungarian rhythms, polytonalities and melodic shapes in Mikrokosmos sound wonderfully fresh in these performances.

With booklet notes only in German and French, with an additional biography of Helga Váradi in Hungarian, we English speakers are left out rather on the thoughts behind this programme, but juxtaposing 20th century music with the Baroque is a good idea, joining up lines of musical history with a common instrument at its heart. My only regret here is that György Ligeti’s keyboard works don’t make an appearance, as this line could have been taken a step further towards the present. The instruments in question here are fine sounding two-manual examples, but other than some photos there doesn’t appear to be any detailed information, and the credits mention a ‘Piano Technician’. It is only with the video clips on Helga Váradi’s website that we hear that the two harpsichords used are a 17th century Ruckers, and a recently built instrument for the Bartók pieces. This latter has a punchy sound with rich bass tones and plenty of variety in its colours. The contrast between the instruments is not so great that we feel disorientated, and there is a magical feel with familiar pieces such as Couperin’s Le Tic-Toc Choc ou Les Maillotins that are guaranteed to raise a smile. Bach’s famous C minor Prelude has a gorgeously orchestral feel and if Váradi turned out to have plans for a complete Wohltemperierte Klavier then you would find me at the front of the queue. Transitions between works have been carefully considered, so for instance the dance rhythms of the last piece in the Couperin Ordre join hands very effectively with the scherzando Hanswurst. An important aspect of these performances is that they sound like music rather than keyboard exercises, despite their often aphoristic duration. The connection in character between Bartók and Domenico Scarlatti is particularly striking.

The two-manual feature of the harpsichord results in some sublime alternative ‘takes’ on some of the Mikrokosmos pieces. No. 125 Kahnfahrt for instance, uses damped strings for the ostinato central figure, adding spice to the melodic line that floats across in an entirely different key. Contrasts of dynamic are also exploited, and there is a general feeling both of musicality and enhanced clarity in the way these pieces have been prepared: Váradi’s feel for legato articulation at the keyboard is particularly beguiling.

This well-performed, superbly recorded and imaginative programme is a ‘must-have’ for harpsichord enthusiasts, and will prove a very pleasurable voyage of discovery for those familiar with Bartók’s Mikrokosmos played on the piano. As a debut recording this will also alert us all to the highly talented Helga Váradi, and I for one will be keen to hear what she does next.

Dominy Clements

Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
From: Mikrokosmos BB 105, Sz. 107 (1926-1939)
No. 122 Akkorde, gleichzeitig und gegeneinander (Molto vivace) [1:10]
No. 125 Kahnfahrt (Allegretto) [1:27]
No. 116 Lied (Tempo di Marcia) [1:47]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
From: Wohltemperiertes Klavier I, BWV 847 (1722)
Präludium in c [1:40]
Fuge in c [1:58]
From: Mikrokosmos BB 105, Sz. 107 (1926-1939)
No. 79 Hommage ŕ J. S. B. (Calmo) [1:03]
No. 117 Bourrée (Allegretto) [1:04]
No. 145a Chromatische Invention I (Allegro) [1:22]
9 No. 145b Chromatische Invention II (Allegro) [1:30]
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Pičces de Clavecin, 3e Livre, 18e Ordre (1722)
I. Allemande La Verneüil [4:08]
II. La Verneüilléte (Légérement et agréablement) [1:11]
III. Sœur Monique. Rondeau (Tendrement, sans lenteur) [2:45]
IV. Le Turbulent (Trčs viste) [1:51]
V. L'Atendrissante (Douloureusement) [2:06]
VI. Le Tic-Toc-Choc ou Les Maillotins. Rondeau. (Légérement et marqué) [3:08]
VII. Le Gaillard-Boiteux (dans le goűt Burlesque) [1:37]
From: Mikrokosmos BB 105, Sz. 107 (1926-1939)
No. 139 Hanswurst (Con moto, scherzando) [1:03]
No. 85 Gebrochene Akkorde (Andante) [1:37]
No. 86 Zwei Fünftonreihen in Dur (Andante) [1:30]
No. 87 Variationen (Allegro moderato) [1:21]
No. 120 Quintenakkorde (Allegro) [1:03]
No. 126 Wechselnder Takt (Allegro pesante) [0:36]
No. 128 Stampf-Tanz (Moderato) [1:21]
No. 130 Ländlicher Spaß (Moderato) [0:55]
No. 138 Dudelsack (Allegretto) [1:42]
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonata in E-dur, K 162 [5:35]
From: Mikrokosmos BB 105, Sz. 107 (1926-1939)
No. 140 Freie Variationen (Allegro molto) [1:46]
No. 149 Sechs Tänze in bulgarischen Rhythmen, No. 2 [1:14]
No. 150 Sechs Tänze in bulgarischen Rhythmen, No. 3 [1:27]
No. 151 Sechs Tänze in bulgarischen Rhythmen, No. 4 [1:38]
No. 153 Sechs Tänze in bulgarischen Rhythmen, No. 6 [1:50]
No. 146 Ostinato (Vivacissimo) [2:26]


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