Bartók: Violin Works, Vol. 3
Antal Zalai and József Balog’s survey of Bartók’s violin music concludes with sensitively judged interpretations of the two Sonatas interspersed with the Rhapsodies. In the Sonatas, often regarded as among Bartók’s most uncompromising essays in musical modernism, Antal Zalai manages to find an unexpected vein of lyricism in the violin writing, matched by Balog’s often delicate approach to the piano part. Their approach works particularly well in the Second Sonata’s mystical sonorities in the first movement, which sound closer to Szymanowski’s Mythes than usual. Zalai does not assault the ear with the usual aggressive playing in the outer movements of Sonata No. 1, again preferring to emphasise the work’s links to Romanticism. The Rhapsodies find both players in ebullient form projecting the music with grace and humour and avoiding unnecessary tempo fluctuations.
Normally I would have no hesitation in recommending these clearly recorded accounts, especially as they retail at bargain price. However two recent full-price recordings of the Sonatas, from James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong (Chandos) and the extremely visceral approach of Barnabás Kelemen and Zoltán Kocsis (Hungaroton), provide an even more mesmerising and tonally varied musical experience and are definitely worth the extra outlay.