Bartok: Violin Concerto No. 1; Violin Concerto No. 2

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Violin Concerto No. 1; Violin Concerto No. 2
PERFORMER: György Pauk (violin); Polish National RSO/Antoni Wit
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554321
The first movement of the First Concerto contains some of the most overtly emotional music that Bartók ever composed. Pauk takes it slower than the Andante marking might imply, and that, coupled with the rather ungrateful recording which makes his tone appear thin, robs the music of its passion. In the second movement there’s greater aggression, which needs a more effortless virtuosity than Pauk brings to it: Kyung-Wha Chung has the measure of this concerto, the advantage of Solti and the Chicago Symphony on top form and is much more realistically recorded.

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The Second Concerto has more going for it, though the strange internal balance of the orchestra is a minus, with strings receding into the distance, and winds far too forward. But it does start off at Bartók’s specified speed, and tries to follow the constant tricky changes of tempo throughout the first movement. So, more than in many versions, I felt that I was listening to an Allegro, rather than a laid-back Moderato. But Pauk’s intonation isn’t always perfect, and his sound becomes a bit scratchy in the more strenuous passages. That’s also a problem in the scherzando sections of the slow movement, though otherwise his reserve is more touching than any heart-on-sleeve display. Ultimately, though, there’s a lack of projection in the performance, and the dry recording becomes wearing, so it’s worth investing in Mullova’s more imaginative and precise reading. Martin Cotton