Bartók: Rhapsody Nos 1 & 2; Violin Concerto No. 2

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COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: Hungaroton
WORKS: Rhapsody Nos 1 & 2; Violin Concerto No. 2
PERFORMER: Barnabás Kelemen (violin); Hungarian National PO/Zoltán Kocsis
CATALOGUE NO: HSACD 32509

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Over the years, Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto has enjoyed powerful advocacy on disc from Yehudi Menuhin and Ivry Gitlis to Thomas Zehetmair and most recently Arabella Steinbacher. This latest release in Hungaroton’s exemplary Bartók New Series fully deserves to join such august company, bringing to our attention an extraordinary talent in the Hungarian violinist Barnabás Kelemen.

Not only does Kelemen possess all the necessary technical brilliance to master every aspect of Bartók’s fiendishly difficult writing but he also has an instinctive and idiomatic understanding of the musical language. In the opening paragraph he resists the temptation to smooth over Bartók’s asymmetrical melodic lines while building the music to fever-pitch intensity. Later passages in the first movement are strongly characterised with violent mood swings, from grotesque violence to detachment and mystery.

Kocsis and the Hungarian National Philharmonic offer astonishingly vivid support to Kelemen’s rollercoaster playing bringing a raw incisive energy to the orchestral accompaniment in place of the more opulent late-Romantic textures favoured in many other recordings. The two Rhapsodies are no less exhilarating, with Kelemen exploiting every opportunity for virtuosic display and Kocsis following his every nuance with razor-sharp accuracy.

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The SACD recording places Kelemen very firmly in front of the microphone though not to the detriment of textural clarity in terms of the orchestral writing. A further highly illuminating feature of this latest release is the rather generous appendix which provides the opportunity to hear the composer’s alternative and strikingly different endings to all three works. Erik Levi