Bartók

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Bartók: Piano Works
WORKS: Dance Suite, Sz 77; 15 Hungarian peasant Songs, Sz 71; Four Old Songs; Piano Sonata; Six Romanian Folk Dances; 14 Bagatelles, Sz 38
PERFORMER: Alain Planes (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 902163

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I’m beginning to think that Alain Planès is one of the piano world’s best-kept secrets. He has worked wonders with repertoire from Schubert to Debussy, was a member of Boulez’s Ensemble Intercontemporain up to 1981 – a versatile artist indeed – and Harmonia Mundi, happily, has been throwing its weight behind his playing. Disc after disc has proved chock-full of incisive, intelligent musicianship and pianism of great beauty and flare, and this latest – a beautifully chosen album of Bartók, matching some of the composer’s best-known piano music with some rewarding rarities – is no exception. The sense of relish with which he delves deep into Bartók’s personal idiom is quite irresistible.

A younger performer might be tempted to ‘let rip’ a little more in some of the earthier, folksier numbers; there’s an edge of carefulness and unshakeable equilibrium about Planès’s playing that balances out that verve. But one of his finest qualities is that he never compromises on tone quality. Bartók’s own recordings as a pianist reveal an exceptionally clear, singing touch that is never heavy-handed and Planès is absolutely true to the composer’s rigour and poise. The songful, straightforward approach to pieces like the famous Romanian Dances proves rewarding. And the Sonata is a tour de force of rich-toned, magnificent delights. Everything is enhanced by a close yet warm recorded sound.

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Jessica Duchen