Bart—k, Eštvšs, Kurt‡g

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bartok,Eotvos,Kurtag
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: Viola Concerto
PERFORMER: Kim Kashkashian (viola); Netherlands Radio CO/Peter Eötvös
CATALOGUE NO: 465 420-2
Kashkashian breathes fiery life into this dark, dramatic trio of Hungarian pieces, all, like the walking wounded, feeling their way towards being complete viola concertos. Bartók was in the advanced stages of leukaemia when he sketched his Concerto for William Primrose, leaving only 13 pages of score when he died. Tibor Serly reconstructed the work, but its structure still seems oddly balanced.

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Kashkashian attacks the rhapsodic first movement with urgency, relaxing into its bluesy accompanying figures. There is a voluptuous sweep to her phrasing, as well as the ‘sombre masculine character’ by which the composer identified the instrument, and this work. Her strong, unindulgent approach dignifies the second and third movements: while I prefer Bashmet’s sound and would really recommend Janós Starker’s noble performance of Serly’s cello arrangement (RCA), this is a compelling reading. Peter Eötvös’s conducting adds to the excitement, and his new work Replica is a fine addition to the repertoire. Conceived as a postscript to his opera Three Sisters (reviewed in January), it is essentially a great aria of farewell, straining away from and pulled back to a constant centre. Accompanied by five somewhat malevolent violas in a highly unusual orchestral grouping, where accordion, ‘white noise’ maracas and flugelhorn add their alien voices, the soloist plays out a claustrophobic drama worthy of Chekhov’s ardent tragedy.

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The repeated single note of Replica leads comfortably into the grand heroism of Kurtág’s Concerto, with its Brahmsian timpani, its naked and mournful Hungarian scales. This, his favoured first movement of a viola concerto written as a graduation exercise from the Liszt Academy just ten years after Bartók’s death, provides a fascinating insight into his art’s origins. More Bartók than the man himself, its rhetorical gestures and grand scoring are a far cry from his current aphoristic style. Yet those gestures eventually simplify into a few, wistful assertions, whose shadows Kashkashian beautifully underscores.