WORKS: Piano Sonata; Out of Doors; Nine Little Pieces; Romanian Folk Dances; Romanian Christmas Carols
PERFORMER: Geoffrey Tozer (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9761
Bartók’s solo piano works are less often included in programmes than they should be, certainly when compared with the popularity of his orchestral pieces and concertos, but they are just as central to his achievement and his modernist status. The major works of the mid-Twenties – the suite Out of Doors and the Sonata, together with the Nine Little Pieces, all of which were composed in 1926 for the composer’s own recital tours – are given a context in Geoffrey Tozer’s useful compilation by framing them with some of the sets of folksong transcriptions from the years of the First World War, when Bartók was classifying and absorbing the material he had so assiduously collected in the field. Folk music was always the springboard from which his rhythmic and modal experiments began.
Tozer’s performances of all the pieces are faithful, rhythmically precise and idiomatic; he is adept at characterising the dances and songs (which become something greater than the sum of their parts when heard in sequence) and makes the larger-scale structures of the Sonata and Out of Doors perfectly lucid. But his accounts pale alongside those by Zoltán Kocsis in his six-disc survey of Bartók’s piano music for Philips (all available separately). Where Tozer’s command is efficient but essentially utilitarian, Kocsis’s is exceptional; his perfectly focused energy giving the rhythms extra edge, his awareness of the colouristic possibilities of Bartók’s piano writing introducing a totally new sensibility to the music. In a piece like ‘The Night’s Music’ from Out of Doors, for instance, Tozer is just prosaic where Kocsis creates a world of mysterious enchantment. Andrew Clements