Bartok: Mikrokosmos

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LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Mikrokosmos
PERFORMER: Zoltán Kocsis (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 462 381-2
Kocsis is probably uniquely qualified to play this music. No pianist of comparable stature has made anything like so exhaustive a study of this historic cycle (up to and including the most meticulous scrutiny of Bartok’s own recordings, where such exist), and he strives at all times to present the most faithful possible rendition of Bartok’s exacting specifications. But the details which finally decide the quality of a performance are of a subtlety far beyond the power of our very limited notation, and it’s these which make the difference, for me, between Kocsis’s excellent performance here and the positively transfixing recordings of the composer himself.


The Mikrokosmos (‘Microcosms’) form Bartok’s most systematic legacy to the world of piano pedagogy – six volumes of graded pieces intended to guide the learner from absolute beginnerhood to a near-professional standard. In documentary terms alone, this is an important release, and for teachers and their pupils, it offers an invaluable resource. For the average music-lover, however, its value is less evident. Much of the music is designed more for players than for listeners, particularly in the earlier, more elementary volumes, and much if not most of CD 1 has little or nothing to offer the average music-lover. If you do want to discover the whole of this work as a listener, you’re probably better off with Claude Hellfer on Harmonia Mundi. More lustrous in tone, and more overtly expressive and evocative, he reveals, as few do, the extent to which Bartok was influenced by Debussy. Jeremy Siepmann