Bartok: Two Romanian Dances, Op. 8a; Three Hungarian Folk Songs from Csík; Allegro barbaro; Four Dirges, Op. 9a; Suite, Op. 14; Romanian Christmas Carols

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COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Two Romanian Dances, Op. 8a; Three Hungarian Folk Songs from Csík; Allegro barbaro; Four Dirges, Op. 9a; Suite, Op. 14; Romanian Christmas Carols
PERFORMER: Zoltán Kocsis (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 442 016-2 DDD
Here is a lovely opportunity to get to know some of Bartók’s less frequently heard piano music as well as some well-known recital favourites. Kocsis’s disc includes gems such as the Three Hungarian Folk Songs from Csík, the Suite, Op. 14, Romanian Christmas Carols (gorgeous!) and the fiendish Allegro barbaro. Some of the music is quite ‘chewy’ and shows the introverted, complicated and melancholic side of this extraordinary composer’s personality – the Four Dirges, Op. 9a are very odd indeed, but the taste can be acquired with repeated playing! First Term at the Piano, with which the disc ends, is another story again: you can really feel Bartók’s love and commitment to both musical training for young people, and the traditions of Hungarian folk music on which he draws so strongly, and Kocsis plays it sympathetically and seriously.

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Kocsis himself was trained very much in that tradition – he was a student at the Béla Bartók Conservatory and the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. And he is a natural Bartók player (not only because he’s Hungarian): virtuoso pieces seem effortless, though always full of gutsy energy, while in the folk songs and Christmas carols his tone sings with a coolly passionate wistfulness. He has the ideal combination of power and crystalline clarity so necessary to this composer’s music. Sound quality is good – perhaps a little over bright in the more percussive moments, but always clear and focused. Jessica Duchen