Bartók: Two Portraits; Rhapsody No. 1

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COMPOSERS: Bartok,Kodaly,Ligeti
LABELS: PentaTone
WORKS: Bartók: Two Portraits; Rhapsody No. 1; Kodály: Dances of Galánta; Háry János Suite; Ligeti: Concerto Românesc
PERFORMER: Mihaela Costea (violin); Orquestra Gulbenkian/ Lawrence Foster

This enterprising and beautifully recorded programme, derived from a concert given in Lisbon in November 2009, brings together works by three of the greatest Hungarian composers of the 20th century. Undoubtedly the most unfamiliar item is Ligeti’s Concerto Românesc, a brilliant four-movement work from 1951 that skilfully weaves together a medley of Romanian folk melodies. Although the Concerto contains only fleeting anticipations of the more radical modernist style which Ligeti would pursue after his escape from Hungary five years later, it nonetheless fell foul of the communist authorities and was banned after a single rehearsal.
As a leading interpreter of the music of Enescu, it’s hardly surprising that Lawrence Foster should feel such a strong empathy with the Ligeti, and he delivers a committed performance with the well-drilled Gulbenkian Orchestra. At the same time, a rival recording featuring the Berlin Philharmonic under Jonathan Nott on Warner has even greater physical impact with a higher level of energy and dynamism in the riotously colourful Finale.
In the Kodály, Foster once again secures very neat playing from his Portuguese orchestra. But there is also an element of caution to his approach which makes the final section of the Dances of Galanta and the ‘Intermezzo’ from Háry János sound less exhilarating and rhythmically nuanced than on the marvellous Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer recordings for Hungaroton and Philips. Similarly, although Mihaela Costea presents a sweet-toned account of the first movement of Bartók’s Two Portraits, her playing misses some of the music’s romantic ardour, and in the First Rhapsody she could have employed an even wider range of articulation in charting the work’s whimsical changes of mood. Erik Levi