Notes and Editorial Reviews
Zoltan Kocsis's Bartok series represents something of a double 'first', being the first comprehensive survey of Bartok's piano music to be undertaken by a single pianist—Andor Foldes's DG set (3/56—nla) having been substantially incomplete, while Gyorgy Sandor's two Vox sets (2/64—nla) lacked a few minor pieces. It will also be the first major interpretative project to call on the substantial evidence of Bartok's own recordings. ''Zoltan Kocsis is a pioneer in discovering the creative use of Bartok's gramophone recordings as 'texts''', writes Laszlo Somfai in Philips's booklet, and with some justification. Somfai then goes on to stress the spontaneous nature of Bartok's own recorded performances, a quality that Kocsis achieves in his own
playing. He also displays an ecstatic involvement in Bartok's harmonic writing, most particularly in the delicious, eloquently voiced Three Hungarian folksongs from the Csik district (how the second song seems a natural continuation of the first) and the exploratory Three Studies, the first as violent as the Miraculous Mandarin's murder, the third, a shifting sequence of computations that anticipates the player-piano studies of Conlon Nancarrow. Kocsis tackles all three Studies with absolute confidence, even though—in this particular instance—there is no creator-recording to act as an interpretative blueprint. In any case, Kocsis's performances are never mere replications of Bartok's own; rather, they take the composer's lead in generating energy without aggression, poetry without indulgence and accuracy without pedantry.
The rest of the programme is as varied as the incidents within each individual opus. The Two Romanian Dances, both of them rich in novel variation, are thrust forwards in heady excitement, the first breaking half-way for a darkly rhapsodic central section, the second, a sort of mad-cap burlesque. The Allegro barbaro discards its customary metallic sheen (mistakenly applied by pianists who have no understanding of Bartok's idiom) and, instead, assumes more authentically Hungarian characteristics. Then there are the deeply expressive Four Dirges, the varied and instantly memorable Romanian Christmas Carols, the masterly Suite Op. 14 (the best place to start if you're at all sheepish about tackling the musical complexion of Bartok's major piano works) and, to end on a simplistic note, The first term at the piano—attractive teaching material, similar in concept to the first books of Mikrokosmos, but strictly for completists.
This is a superb CD, much as the first volume in the series was (1/94). The music itself is of exceptionally high quality, the disc contents are imaginatively varied, the interpretations beyond criticism, the recordings superb (warm, close and lifelike, as per Philips's 'house' style) and the documentation highly informative. I can't think that any other survey of music from our own century has so many claims to overall excellence, and I await the next instalment with eager anticipation.
-- Gramophone [11/1994]
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