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Bartók: Violin Concerto No. 2, Rhapsodies

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Product details

  • Audio CD (2 Mar. 2004)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Decca (UMO)
  • ASIN: B00000I938
  • Other Editions: Audio CD  |  MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 269,969 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Does there exist any music more glorious than this? Answer: No. 25 Jan. 2011
By Tom Brody - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
The VIOLIN CONCERTO begins with a stream of steady string-pluckings. Then, a remarkable soaring violin solo begins -- just a soaring as the opening notes of Hindmith's Violin Concerto. At 1 3/4 minutes, the full orchestra blasts out the same tune, as had initially been played by the violin, and then at 2 minutes the plucking resumes. A quiet eerie-sounding episode occurs (3-4 min). At 4 min, 10 seconds, the orchestra issues a forceful blast, and the orchestra is noisy for an entire minute, and there are a few bars reminiscent of the raspberry episode in Bartok's CONCERTO FOR ORCHESTRA.

At 7 min, 15 sec, comes a very rapid violin solo, as rapid as anything that ever issued from Paganini's bow. At 8 min, 30 sec, comes a brief episode where the brass section issues snarling, biting sounds. At 9 min, 40 sec, comes a sparkling fanfare, reminiscent of the fanfare that begins Bartok's PIANO CONCERTO NO.2. For those who like glissandos, fine glissandos can be found at 11 min, and again at 11 min, 40 sec. A happy little jig, complete with celeste, occurs but it lasts for only ten seconds. A 2-minute violin cadenza is found at 13 min. The first movement ends with a series of woodwind chirps.

The second movement begins very quietly, and the timpani provides thumps and rolls. At 3 min, flutes and celeste and harp make their entrance, sounding like an episode of sonic enchantment from Disney's SLEEPING BEAUTY. At 4 min, 50 sec, the enchanting episode changes to a short caustic episode, where the violin saws back and forth. At 7 min, we find a dancing pixie episode, with solo violin plus flutes. The second movement ends quietly.

The third movement starts with a variation of the original tune. Pizzicato plucks abound. A few seconds of silence occur at 2 min, which is followed by eerie shivering violins and celeste. At 3 min, 30 sec, the orchestra wakes up again, providing thundering drums and snarling, barking brass. From 5-6 min, the orchestra takes a break from its fury and commotion, and plays at a moderate level and moderate tempo. A turning point occurs at 7 min, where the solo violin seems to say, "Okay, I have finally made up my mind about this!" Then, comes the usual candy store-type variety of flutes, drums, and pizzicato plucks. At 11 min, 45 sec, comes another decisive-sounding moment. A big brass fanfare occurs at 12 min, 15 sec.

RHAPSODY NO.1 starts with a pleasant, ascending tune, accompanied by a woodwind instrument playing a little motif in an odd, ethnic scale. The full orchestra then bursts forth, providing a sonic palate more familiar to Westerners than the woodwind's Chinese-sounding ethnic noodling. A constant feature of the violin, in the first movement, is that whenever it plays a measure (or plays a bar) the first half of the measure is of normal volume, but the second half of the measure is quieter and withdrawn (like casting out a fishing line, and then always pulling back). The second movement sounds a good deal like SIMPLE GIFTS, the Shaker melody made famous by Copland in APPALACHIAN SPRING. Now and then, we hear the sharp, metallic boing of a plucked string from the CIMBALUM. After 2 min of the SIMPLE GIFTS-like melody, comes a fiddle episode with hints of bluegrass sounding, for example, like the bluegrass fiddle of recording artist Byron Berline. Towards the end, the cimbalum returns with its boing.

According to comments on RHAPSODY NO.1 from The Kennedy Center: "The scalar tune given above a drone-like accompaniment that serves as the main theme of the first movement of the Rhapsody No. 1 exhibits a certain Gypsy influence in its sharply dotted rhythms and exotic melodic leadings. Thematic contrast is provided by the mournful strain, marked by snapping short-long figurations, that comprises the central section. The scalar tune returns to round out the movement. The second movement is a procession of vibrant dance melodies, requiring considerable feats of virtuosity from the violinist. The Rhapsody ends with the return of the scalar melody that opened the work."

RHAPSODY NO.2 starts with violin, clarinet, and oboe trio. There is plenty of orchestral color. There is no particular tune throughout the first movement. The first movement is a tone poem parade of glorious sounds marching along. At 2 min, in the first movement, comes an eerie part, with celeste and flute. The second movement begins with a motoristic theme, reminiscent of Hindemith's METAMORPHOSIS ON A THEME BY WEBER. The second movement is not at all like an amorphous tone poem. In contrast to the first movement, there are plenty of thematic guideposts for the listener to grab, for maintaining orientation. Towards the end of RHAPSODY NO.2 is a short episode sounding like it was inspired by Stravinsky's PETRUSHKA.

The RHAPSODY NO.2 is like a summary of Bartok's career. In this piece, one finds the unadorned folk music style, as is found in Bartok's earliest compositions. In this same piece, one also finds the "brutal" music style, as found in Bartok's MARACULOUS MANDARIN and PIANO CONCERTO NO.1. Moreover, this same piece also contains a minute or so in the style of Bartok's "night music," as found, e.g., in Bartok's PIANO CONCERTO NO.3. In pop music, this type of melange is called a "medley." In the entire realm of classical music, the term "medley" is essentially unknown. Who ever heard of Beethoven compositing a "medley" that contains the best of the tunes found in Beethovens symphonies and piano sonatas?!?!? But Bartok's RHAPSODY NO.2 is the composition that is closest to being a "medley" in the realm of classical music.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 29 Sept. 2014
By Gregory Landenburg - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shaham and Boulez pair for a vivid, detailed, Bartok 2nd, but there's a lack of spontaneity 25 Nov. 2014
By Andrew R. Barnard - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Pierre Boulez has made a name for himself in Bartok, and Gil Shaham has recorded a glittering array of concerto discs for DG, so it's easy to see why listeners are attracted to this disc. I've just recently come to know the Bartok Second Violin Concerto, and have been amazed at the wealth of inspiration; it has sent me running around, buying half a dozen copies. Surely this disc should be one of them?

This is clearly a beautiful interpretation, one that takes advantage of the sound of the Chicago Symphony, which plays with impeccable polish. Shaham is assured and golden-toned. This is Bartok played more for elegance than the struggle, for sure, so it sounds a bit smoothed over. Boulez is an accomplished conductor, and there's no denying that he finds a wealth of ideas. But I miss the elements of desperation and agony. The detail and novelty are on a high level, but it doesn't emotionally charge you.

The concerto is ambiguous enough that a slight tinkering with the line can have far-reaching results. Bars that can sound ponderous can be turned into scintillating mystery seemingly at the press of a button. Shaham doesn't believe in such a volatile world, though. His playing stands out for its clarity, poise, and supreme virtuosity. And indeed, he plays with an ease that betters most of his rivals on disc. He's very much in tune with a romantic sound world. But the main point of this concerto, again, is its unpredictability, and there's a place for brutality. As it is, we wallow in a world of mesmerizing sounds, especially in the second movement, where both Shaham and Boulez are somber and achingly beautiful. If only it could be less drawn out.

The Rhapsodies are more successful, because here Boulez's sensitive touch and and simultaneous richness adds a great element of warmth. It's bittersweet though, just like it should be. It's not tragic, but these short pieces don't need to be; I welcome the extra folk element. Shaham's tone is luxuriant, and if at times the mood is meditative, I'd argue that it works. Certainly it's emotionally gripping.

Maybe you shouldn't run out and buy this reading, as high level and professional as it is. I'm more convinced by readings from Chung, Zehetmair, and Faust. By all means this is an engaging reading, but it doesn't leave you feeling like you're going to die. I wish it would.

3.0 out of 5 stars Another "might-have-been" for your file of regrets 20 April 2013
By Jurgen Lawrenz - Published on
Format: Audio CD
After his stunning recordings of Sibelius and Tchaikovsky, I anticipated great things from Shaham in the Bartok Concerto, believing that the technical challenges would surely bring out the best of him again, if not more!
Alas, it seems that Bartok's solo writing is like water off a duck's back to him. Maybe he studied it so much that there simply aren't any secrets left for him to discover, all the knuckle busting bowing, plucking and fingering difficulties having been conquered and consigned to an infallible memory? This is certainly what the performance sounds like - as if he were playing Spohr or Viotti in a modern dress. So despite the violinistic perfection, no excitement leaps off the disk.
It dare say the conductor played his part in this toned-down rendition. Boulez is a dour performer on the best of days. I doubt he ever felt a twitch of nervous anxiety standing in front of an orchestra. He's been there too long, without ever really believing in the necessity of this culture industry, although it's a convenient way for a composer who lost his way to earn a crust and accumulate prestige. (I'm not inventing this: Boulez was extremely scathing of precisely the kinds of things he is now doing when he was still a young man and ambitious composer). Accordingly his contribution to this recording is giving a precise metronomic beat to a superlative orchestra who could at a pinch play the music without him moving a muscle. But Boulez is there, and if anything he repressed the orchestra from attacking the score with bite and abandon, with the roughness and toughness that Bartok's harmonic diction demands. You only need to wait for those whiplashing chords that recur in the orchestra throughout and find them sounding hardly more savage than a tam tam stroking a cymbal. So it may well have been Boulez rather than Shaham who made this concerto recording a bit of a bore.
No need to bother with comment on the Rhapsodies. They are relatively "harmless" to begin with, and don't ask for any kind of treatment. They practically play themselves (in the right hands). Again Shaham is note perfect and Boulez beats perfect time.
Comparisons may be mentioned for serious buyers. "The classic" by Menuhin and Furtwängler is unlikely to be equalled soon; and Menuhin's EMI recording with Dorati is also still on top of the list. Both readings combine the raw and the sophisticated in an inimitable brew. Grumiaux, Szeryng, Mutter and Kyung-Wa Chung are other favourites (in no particular order).
The recording quality is some compensation, certainly the best of all Bartok Violin Concertos in my collection and a compliment to DG's abiding (though recently somewhat irregular) comitment to quality.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars *** 1/2 Bartók goes to finishing school 19 Jun. 2011
By Yasha Gordon - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Pierre Boulez has somehow managed to establish a virtual monopoly on Bartók. Listening to this much-praised performance and comparing it with some of its rivals, I wondered if the critics who praised it had ever heard the piece before. Do people really think Bartók should be this refined?

In its way, this is a masterful performance, but it's completely one-dimensional. Rather than embracing the infinite variety of Bartók's music -- its combination of folky roughness, yearning nostalgia, and driving intensity -- Boulez and Shaham deliberately flatten the piece's contrasts, effectively drowning it in embalming fluid. In the quieter sections of the first and second movements, they make some lovely sounds, and Boulez puts the orchestral part through his patented texture-clarification process; much detail is unearthed. Shaham's approach is hand-in-glove with the conductor's, though he sounds a bit more awake. His small but lovely tone (well captured here) is a pleasure to hear and his innate musicality is always evident. Occasionally, you even get the sense that Boulez is holding him back.

But when something beyond refined clarity is called for, neither conductor nor violinist has anything to offer. Just compare Shaham's mildly assertive phrasing of the opening theme with the boldness of Stern, Chung, or Mullova, and you'll hear exactly what this performance lacks. The first movement's fast, barbaric passages are just fast -- there's no bite to Bartók's mood swings. Similarly, there's no improvisational feeling to the middle movement's fast sections, and the finale is earthbound from first to last, with no momentum or sense of release at the coda. Occasionally, the Chicago players manage to provide some energy of their own accord; the exposed brass passages in the outer movements are particularly well done, as you would expect. But in general you get the sense that Boulez thinks making Bartók's music earthy would somehow diminish it (the opposite is true).

The performance that best captures the "infinite variety" I referred to above is probably the thrilling Stern/Bernstein, but Chung and Mullova also have something to say in this piece. All of them sound much more immersed in Bartók's world than Shaham and Boulez.
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