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Bartok: Music For Strings, Percussion & Celesta; Divertimento / Kocsis

Bartok / Hnp / Kocsis
Release Date: 05/25/2010 
Label:  Hungaroton Sacd Catalog #: 32510   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Béla Bartók
Conductor:  Zoltán Kocsis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



BARTÓK Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta . Divertimento. Hungarian Sketches, Sz 97 Zoltán Kocsis, cond; Hungarian Nat Ph O HUNGAROTON 32510 (SACD: 59:48)


Where recordings of Bartók’s orchestral music are concerned, Hungarian conductors are usually among the best. I’m not suggesting that they alone can lead these works in performances notable for a sense of authenticity—the Czech Read more Kubelík is one exception, and there are others—but the likes of Reiner, Végh, Doráti, Solti, and Fricsay have been very successful. Perhaps it’s a matter of centralized musical training with strong cultural ties, through the Franz Liszt Academy, where both Kodály and Bartók taught. Their versions of the composer’s music are often tauter, harsher, more rhythmically driven, employing tempos that come closer to the exhilarating ones that Bartók himself chose for his music.


Zoltán Kocsis’s latest is a case in point. All the qualities mentioned above can be found in this release: jagged accents, sharp dynamic gradients, enormous energy, and a real sense of involvement. The linearity of the lines in the scherzo-like Allegro of the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta furnish one example, as do the pungency of percussive eruptions in the same movement, and the urgency of the celesta’s interruption. There’s an edge-of-the-seat focus to the same work’s Adagio, all too easily lost in a slow search for atmospherics, and the finale is as exuberant as one could wish. The overall effect has none of the silky richness and filed-down edges Harnoncourt and Karajan brought to this music.


Much the same can be said of the Divertimento, as driven and “unromantic” as its composer could have wished. By contrast, the Hungarian Sketches of 1931—a bid for popularity after the international success of the Dance Suite , and based on piano pieces composed in the 1908–11 timeframe—is all color and clarity. The tempo rubato of “Evening in Transylvania” is handled gracefully, while the orchestra plays throughout with an attention to phrasing and details of instrumental character all too easily lost in this engaging, almost chamber-like score.


One other point to note: There’s a very sparing use of string vibrato on this release, notably so in the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta . It helps underscore Bartók’s harmonic ambivalence, and that’s all to the good. This reflects a relatively recent tradition in Hungarian string ensembles, and is most notable in the work of Vilmos Tátrai, who founded the Tátrai Quartet and the Hungarian Chamber Orchestra, while taking the first-violin chair of the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra for roughly 38 years—the same ensemble Kocsis now leads as the Hungarian National Philharmonic. Wherever the influence may have originated, it is certainly welcome in Bartók.


The sound is excellent: very forward, with good placement for soloists. This one’s definitely a winner.


FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

1.
Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Sz 106 by Béla Bartók
Conductor:  Zoltán Kocsis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936; Budapest, Hungary 
2.
Divertimento for String Orchestra, Sz 113 by Béla Bartók
Conductor:  Zoltán Kocsis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939; Budapest, Hungary 
3.
Hungarian Sketches (5), Sz 97 by Béla Bartók
Conductor:  Zoltán Kocsis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1931; Budapest, Hungary 

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