I don't buy very many "complete works" boxed sets, but I came to love Bartok's piano music after first hearing some of the orchestrated versions by Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra. I then went to a fabulous Prom concert by this combination playing some of these pieces in parallel with the solo piano versions performed by Andras Schiff.
Many commentators suggest that Hungarian music is best interpreted by Hungarian performers, and I see no reason to disagree. This is a fine set and astonishingly good value for money with 8 discs. Of course, many of the individual pieces are very short - sometimes less than a minute - but it's great to listen to in chunks - maybe the 6 Romanian Folk Dances or the 15 Hungarian Peasant Songs. However you do it, it'll carry you off to the heart of old Eastern Europe.
These recordings have been around for a while but don't show their age at all. They're a must for anyone with a "complete" fetish, but even if you think you only want a few of the pieces then I suggest you treat yourself to this set. You're bound to come across a few more little gems. And if you don't know the meaning of "rubato" before, then you'll certainly know the feeling of it afterwards.
I first heard some of this music when I was a tiny child. My mother would play pieces from Microcosmos books 1 to 4. Later I tried playing some of the easy pieces for myself. But though they might look banal on the page each one reveals some special quality or pianistic challenge. Microcosmos is here in its six volume entirety. I have found listening to these pieces a chilling experience. Kocsis has taken Bartok's script and revealed the inner core of the whole process of making music. You have to listen very carefully and I think it helps to have access to the printed music. Give this your full attention and you will initiated afresh into the wonder of the piano. Or at least I was, and I am. In addition to Microcosmos and the CD for Children there are five disks of Bartok exploring folk tunes and dance. Endless riches here... Were I teaching in the conservatory I would require all my students to listen to these recordings. Or at least I would try to persuade them to listen. Kocsis has received the highest praise for these recordings. Fully deserved. Having listened carefully to him playing any of these pieces I believe one could go to a piano and just press down one key and hear something wonderful. I am a musician but not a pianist. Were I a pianist I would lock myself away with this recording, with a piano, and with the printed music.
The recordings: I think excellent. Dynamic range breathtaking which is always a good indicator and more important allows us to hear Zoltan Kocsis as if we were seated within touching distance of the piano. A treasured set. No less. Very good booklet.
This is a bench mark. There is not, and could not be, Bartok piano better than Kocsis, either in this beautiful collection (8 CDs) or in his equally splendid box (3 CDs) of the music for piano and orchestra. It's clean, dramatic, spicy music, admirably served by the pianist's marvellous range of tones, between which he can switch and veer at breathless speed and with pin-point accuracy. Whole villages come before your eyes in thirty seconds of a little dance. In quiet moments you prick up your ears. If you want to be convinced of the wonders of it, listen to the suite 'In the Open Air' - a few minutes' scene painting of astonishing vividness, with Kocsis catching every breath of this pared down but vibrant music.
Having listened to my grandson(10) playing some Bartok pieces taught to him by his Hungarian pianist mother, I thought I would buy this at such a bargain price....even if my life (patience?) my not last long enough to do more than sample this massive but invaluable collection.
Bartok is unfamiliar territory for me musically and so this boxed set was purchased as something to sample and explore over the coming weeks and months. Some of the pieces are far more accessible than others... it will be an adventure.
It would be wrong of me to comment on the playing and interpretation because of this unfamiliarity, but I suspect that these recordings by Zoltan Kocsis will/have become the benchmark for these pieces.