Bartok: Suite No. 1, Two Pictures etc. - Kocsis
Hungaroton HSACD 32505
Classical - Orchestral
Bartok: Suite No. 1 Op. 3, Two Pictures Op. 10, Dances of Transylvania, Hungarian Peasant Songs
Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra
Zoltán Kocis (conductor)
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Review by Graham Williams - February 25, 2010
The major item on this new Hungaroton SACD is Bartok’s cheerful and engagingly tuneful early Suite No. 1 for orchestra written in 1905 a few years after he had discovered, and become an adherent of, the music of Richard Strauss. It is very much the work of a young man full of confidence in his compositional abilities, but also of one who had not yet found his own distinctive voice. The work is written in five movements, an early example of the composer’s use of a symmetrical form. While the Straussian style shows through in all four movements, it is the warmth and sweep of Wagner’s prelude to ‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’ that is immediately apparent in the suite’s opening movement. The energetic middle movement is the Hungarian equivalent of one of Dvorak’s ‘Slavonic Dances’ though the middle trio section has hints of the composer’s later style. The suite’s final movement uses the themes from the previous four, but this time presented in reverse order, a further example of Bartok’s fascination with symmetry. Kocsis’s performance of this enjoyable work is masterly and there is much imaginative solo playing from members of the orchestra in each of the five movements.
The first of the ‘Two Pictures’ of 1910, though unmistakably by Bartok is influenced by the impressionism of Debussy while the vigorous second, entitled ‘Village Dance’, reflects the composer’s fascination with east European folk music.
The remainder of the disc consists of orchestral transcriptions that Bartok made of his more popular piano pieces. The ‘Dances of Transylvania’ (1931) is an orchestral version of his short ‘Sonatina’ written in 1915, while the ‘Hungarian Peasant Songs’ (1933) are arranged from nine of the fifteen songs written for piano.
The playing of the Hungarian National Orchestra under Zoltán Kocsis throughout this disc is totally idiomatic. The woodwind have an authentically distinctive timbre that suits the folk inspired pieces such as the Transylvanian Dances and Hungarian Peasant Songs perfectly, and it would be hard to imagine Bartok’s favourite bagpipe sounds being realised with greater earthiness than here. Though the Budapest Festival Orchestra and Ivan Fischer may have a more glamorous international profile, the Hungarian National Orchestra under Kocsis is unquestionably their equal when performing Bartok.
The ‘Hungarian Peasant Songs’ were recorded in 2002 in the Italian Institute, Budapest, and first appeared on an earlier Hungaroton disc that was not part of the ‘Bartok New Series’ Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra, Dance Suite - Kocsis, while the rest of the programme recorded here was taped between 2007 and 2009 in the Palace of Arts, Budapest. The quality of the recordings made in the separate venues is well matched and consistently very fine with plenty of immediacy and a pleasing ambience in both stereo and surround versions.
An enthusiastic recommendation to the latest issue in this excellent Bartok series is definitely warranted.
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