Sarah and Deborah Nemtanu perform Bartók violin duos

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COMPOSERS: Bela Bartók
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Bartók
WORKS: 44 Duos for Two Violins
PERFORMER: Sarah & Deborah Nemtanu (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: Decca 478 8959

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When a German violin pedagogue asked to transcribe some piano pieces from For Children, Bartók opted instead to start afresh with original pieces for two violins. The result is a series of miniature masterpieces – the inner gateway to his string quartets. With two exceptions, the Duos are all based on folk melodies from Serbia, Romania, Slovakia and other regions, but their harmonic language is quite advanced, and a couple of them are even bitonal – that’s to say with the violins playing in different keys simultaneously. 

Bartók arranged his pieces in approximate order of technical difficulty, but for concert performance suggested they should be grouped differently to provide greater variety. Unlike András Keller and János Pilz on their fine ECM recording, Sarah and Deborah Nemtanu stick strictly to the published sequence, and so the music becomes meatier as the series progresses. They play all these pieces to the manner born, and are particularly impressive in the Arab-inflected dances, which they dispatch with fiery freedom.

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Misha Donat