6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
As Bartok Intended,
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This review is from: Bartók: Violin Concertos (MP3 Download)
Bartok was extraordinarily precise about timings in his works - in some cases right down to the second. In the works form the late 1920s through the 1930s many of his works are very tightly organised, often with extensive use of variation form as was the case with the Second Violin Concerto and the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. The Fourth Quartet is also a great example.
Reading the reviews, therefore I was surprised to see how far most violinists differ from his prescribed timings, probably in attempt to inject greater expression or romanticism. I was intrigued to hear that Thomas Zehetmair came as close as anyone to matching the composer's preferred timings. Given that this is much quicker than most you might have expected something sounding forced, stressed or perfunctory.
To me this performance sounds as natural and unforced as the work could sound; there is no loss of expression with the result bearing Ivan Fischer's hallmark with the Budapest Festival Orchestra in that the flow of the concerto is refined and smooth with the folk elements brought to the fore. Thomas Zehetmair is an excellent soloist in tune with what some call a neo classical approach but, if that sounds like a stylistic regression, in truth the Concerto and the works surrounding it show an increasing expansiveness from the more neo baroque and explosive works of the Twenties. It is a work of high maturity that sums up all Bartok had learned and is rightly seen as one of the great Violin Concertos.
I can only say that this sounds completely right to me though, given the Concerto's rigorous structure it can easily take a more expansive approach too and there have been plenty of good ones.
The First Concerto isn't in the same league as the mature Second but is a work of substance all the same. I don't think the two movement form works so well and it does meander at times but the supposedly dreamy first movement is treated seriously here with complex counterpoint working very effectively. The quicker second movement is, if anything, less effective. There are traces of Strauss, hints of Debussy and some folk elements but Bartok's mature voice had yet to appear.
Zehetmair, Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra work as one in these refined and never indulgent performances that make the best possible case for both concertos and, yes, it really does help if you turn up the volume.