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A superb reading of the Bartok heads a disc of distinction and individuality
on 31 January 2014
This disc, well recorded in 2011 and 2012, won the coveted Gramophone award of disc of the year 2013. This will not come as a surprise to anyone purchasing this disc.
The disc couples together three works that are of particular Hungarian significance. Two of these are very recent works by Ligeti (1992) and Eotvos (2007). These are preceded by Bartok's Violin concerto 2, one of last century's finest violin concertos first performed in 1939 and one of the composer's last works.
The Bartok concerto was written at a time when the composer's interest in Hungarian folk styles, both song and dance, had developed far beyond that of being an influence and had progressed into becoming an integral part of the thought processes fundamental to original creations such as this concerto. The Hungarian folk nature of the work informs the shaping of the melody lines and the strongly rhythmical structure of the work, both of which are constantly evolving. This evolution is also the natural result of the variation format of much of the concerto.
The dedicatee of the concerto, Zoltan Szekely, had insisted that Bartok should write a full-blown three movement concerto rather than the set of variations that the composer had originally had in mind. In the event the three movements contain a second movement which is a set of variations and the last movement is a variant of the first movement. In this way both player and composer were accommodated.
Patricia Kopatchinskaja delivers a performance here that has remarkable technical accomplishment in every detail of this demanding work. She also delivers the wildest and most dramatically contrasted reading currently available. In this way she is able to emphasise the inherent links between this concerto and its Hungarian folk inspirations. It is this wildness of the inspirational moment, which at no time becomes trite or playing for transient effects, that makes this recording of the concerto so distinctive. Previously, only Thomas Zehetmair gets near this performance for wildness and only Andre Gertler, Bartok's duo colleague for 13 years from 1925-1938, gets near to the essential Nationalist flavour of the writing. Patricia Kopatchinskaja manages to deliver both and that is the mark of her considerable achievement.
The two additional works by Eotvos and Ligeti inhabit an even more complex world of thought and are strikingly more modern in their compositional language.
The Ligeti concerto originated as a three movement work but was later extended to its current, and definitive, five movement form. The detailed sleeve notes accurately describe the work and the following quotes may give a good idea of what to expect: 'The traditional five-movement formal scheme fast-slow-fast-slow-fast is constantly brought to the point of explosion.' 'Folksong-like simplicity, a solemn chorale and misterioso atmosphere in the slow movements are destroyed by painful stabbing interventions of the orchestra, and the brief central movement, with its rapt violin solo over the restless subsurface, ends as a frenzied race towards disaster.' It is not surprising that this music is not easy to follow or understand but conversely it is difficult to imagine a more committed reading and performance as the one presented here.
The other modern piece, Seven, by Peter Eotvos, was inspired by the deaths of the seven astronauts on the Challenger space shuttle. Within this two part composition there are seven extended cadenzas, each dedicated to one of the seven astronauts. Once more, the sleeve notes may provide readers with a clear idea of the musical content of this work as follows: In the first part, the driving rhythmical power of the solo violin generates an agitated character that is interrupted only by the cadenzas. In contrast to this, the second part, aside from a few violent tutti outbursts, is more reflective. ....... 'the piece ends in a long meditation for the solo violin in its low register, accompanied by the alto flute.'
By using quotes from the informative sleeve notes, the intention is to give a more thorough and accurate view of these last two works than I feel able to do at this early stage of listening. What is perfectly clear is that all the performers deliver deeply committed readings of immense skill. The recording is of an equal high quality. It is no surprise that such an issue would attract the attention of the Gramophone critical adjudicators.
I would therefore suggest that this is a disc of considerable distinction offering an ear-opening reading of the Bartok concerto coupled with thought-provoking couplings, both major works in their own way. As such, this disc deserves serious consideration as a purchase from followers of any one, or more, of Bartok, Ligeti and Eotvos.