Among 20th-century composers, Bártok stood out for his ability to write pedagogical works that contained musical substance, such as the 44 violin duos, whose attractive folkloric character, rhythmic inventiveness, and unforced canonic writing transcend their primary didactic purpose. Like Andras Keller and Janos Pilz on ECM, Hlíf Sigurjónsdóttir and Hjórleifur Valsson group the pieces according to the composer’s suggested order. They generally play in a louder, less nuanced, and at times more aggressive style that is closer to Angela and Jennifer Chung on Harmonia Mundi, but with more consistent intonation.
Compare the Pizzicato No. 43 for starters, and notice how their stentorian, big-bonedRead more legato treatment of the No. 42 Scherzo contrasts to Keller and Pilz’s lighter, detached interplay. Sigurjónsdóttir and Valsson’s broad, proclamatory phrasing of the Wedding Song (No. 29) also differs from Keller and Pilz’s gentler conversational inflections. At first No. 22 seems too slow to convey the music’s impression of a mosquito buzzing nearby, but the deliberate tempo gives extra clarity and breathing room to the composer’s cross-rhythmic effects. Collectors who know the Perlman/Zuckerman interpretations with their full-bodied, vividly detailed sonics will find a modern-day counterpart via Sigurjónsdóttir and Valsson’s hearty assurance. That said, I prefer the ECM edition’s superior idiomatic character, while hoping that its finest stylistic antecedent featuring Sándor Vegh and Albert Lysy will reappear on CD.
-- Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
BARTÓK 44 Duos for 2 Violins • Landon Duo • MSR MS1401 (49:53)
Béla Bartók loved to collect folk songs and is considered to be one of the founders of ethnomusicology. While visiting a holiday resort in the summer of 1904, he overheard a young Transylvanian nanny singing folk songs to the children in her care. He loved the music, and this experience sparked his lifelong dedication to folk music. In 1908, he and Zóltan Kodály traveled into the Hungarian countryside to collect and research old Magyar folk melodies. Their growing interest in folk music coincided with a contemporary social interest in traditional national culture. With the music world watching them, the two composers discovered that the old folk melodies were based on pentatonic scales, similar to those in Asian folk traditions, such as those of Central Asia and Siberia. The melodies of Bartók’s 44 violin duos emanate from Eastern Europe and Arab countries, although the composer chooses in some cases to quote the folk material verbatim and other cases to infuse them with classical traditions and 20th-century harmonies. The duos are played here in the order suggested by the composer, and he was a good programmer. He keeps the variety going and the general motion moving forward with these songs and dances. The programming mixes various styles; dark folk melodies with bright, inviting dances; children’s tunes; and original material such as instrumental interludes that meld the folk material with Western musical composition. Written as exercises, these fascinating short pieces can be equally valuable as concert fare. Of course, the reason they are duos is so that teacher and pupil can play them, but they are not restricted to this use. I particularly like the way the Landon Duo plays the four different New Year’s Greetings.
Scandinavian Violinists Hlif Sigurjónsdóttir and Hjörleifur Valsson play instruments constructed in 2003 and 2004 by Christophe Landon, so they call themselves the Landon Duo. Their violins are copies of instruments made by Antonio Stradivarius in 1714. The sound of these modern violins is excellent and not all that different from that produced by many of the old instruments with which we are familiar. Sigurjónsdóttir and Valsson are fine artists who play with great style and accuracy. Their attention to detail helps to unveil the composer’s limitless imagination and his ability to write in the historic styles of Central and Eastern European ethnic groups. The sound, recorded in 2005, is full and rich. The dynamic range is wide and makes this is a good disc for those with excellent sound systems who do not have to worry about close neighbors.
Andras Keller and Janos Pilz, members of the Keller Quartet, recorded these pieces for ECM in 2002. They play the works in a different order, in a smooth, relaxed manner. On a 2010 Harmonia Mundi import, Angela and Jennifer Chung play their own sequence of these short pieces in which, for some reason, they have made cuts. I think it is valuable to hear the pieces played in the order preferred for the concert stage by the composer. Sigurjónsdóttir and Valsson play them brilliantly.