WORKS: 44 Duos for Two Violins
PERFORMER: András Keller, János Pilz (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: 465 849-2
Bartók’s 44 Duos belong to a select rank of minor masterpieces for two violins that stretches from the duets of Spohr to the recent piece by Kurtág included here – a spectral chorale of exquisite beauty. Bartók wrote his highly inventive Duos – almost all of them arrangements of folksongs from various cultures – for a German violin pedagogue, grading them in order of technical difficulty. (They have been shuffled around here to provide for greater variety.) They were composed in the aftermath of his Fourth String Quartet, and there are echoes of that work’s two scherzos in such pieces as the ‘Mosquito Dance’, with its scurrying muted sounds, and in a number played pizzicato throughout.
These performances, by two members of the Keller Quartet, are exemplary, hitting exactly the right tone of folk-like melancholy or exuberance (and sometimes both) for each piece. It’s puzzling, though, to find the 44 Duos occupying 45 tracks, and the anomaly is only partly explained by the existence of one of the pieces, called ‘Bagpipes’, in two alternative versions. The differences are slight, and the players have in any case incorporated the variants into the da capos each time, so that the two performances sound identical. But the unnecessary duplication of what is already a repetitive piece is a small blemish on a disc which all Bartók lovers should acquire. In addition to the Kurtág piece, Ligeti’s Ballad and Dance, written in the same spirit as the Bartók, is a welcome bonus.