Bartók Violin Concertos Nos 1 & 2
Christian Tetzlaff (violin); Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
Ondine ODE1317-2 60:41 mins
When, in 1936, Bartók’s long-standing violinist friend Zoltán Székely asked him to write a concerto, the composer suggested the novel idea of casting the entire piece as a set of variations. Although Székely wanted a more traditionally designed work, Bartók managed in the end to have it both ways: the concerto has three movements, but the last is a variation of the first, and the slow movement is itself a series of variations. Székely was happy enough, but he asked Bartók to provide a new ending, so that the solo part would continue right up to the last bar. Bartók acquiesced, and his revised ending has been more or less universally adopted. Although there’s no mention of it in the booklet, this new recording actually offers a rare opportunity to hear the concerto’s purely orchestral closing pages as Bartók originally conceived them, complete with ‘whooping’ trombone glissandos.
This is altogether a fine performance, with Christian Tetzlaff a touch more rhythmically alert and characterful than Renaud Capuçon on his recent recording of these two concertos with the LSO, fine as that is, transferring it wholesale to his two orchestral Portraits Op. 5. The piece was written in the aftermath of an unhappy love affair with a young violinist called Stefi Geyer, and the long unaccompanied violin melody which begins it features a motif in rising thirds which Bartók thought of as her leitmotif, and featured in several of his pieces of the time. Here again, Tetzlaff produces playing that’s warmly lyrical and dazzlingly virtuosic, by turns. With the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Hannu Lintu on top form, this is an easy recommendation.