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Bartok: Violin Concerto, Rhapsodies Nos. 1 & 2 - Kelemen, Kocsis

Bartok: Violin Concerto, Rhapsodies Nos. 1 & 2 - Kelemen, Kocsis

Hungaroton  HSACD 32509

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Bartok: Violin Concerto, Rhapsody No. 1, Rhapsody No. 2

Barnabás Kelemen (violin)
Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra
Zoltán Kocsis (conductor)

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Review by Graham Williams - January 23, 2011

The main work on this latest volume of Hungaroton’s splendid ‘Bartók New Series’ is the Violin Concerto No. 2 performed in a very different manner from that recently recorded by Arabella Steinbacher for PentaTone Bartok: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 - Steinbacher, Janowski, but one that is equally compelling and might well suit those who demand more overtly idiomatic playing from both soloist and orchestra.

Barnabás Kelemen is the possessor of an enviable technique, although the range of dynamics exhibited by his playing on this recording does not match that of Steinbacher on PentaTone. This might be partly or wholly attributable to a recording that balances Kelemen too close to the microphone. The resulting larger-than-life image not only masks some of the fabulously incisive orchestral playing that Kocsis elicits from his players, but it also allows the soloist's occasional sniffing to be captured with unwelcome clarity. What Kelemen may lack in subtlety and poise he more than makes up for in dynamism and drive. His earthy indigenous performance is a perfect foil to the more refined and central European style of Steinbacher, and he is fearless in confronting the technical challenges of this wonderful concerto. Zoltán Kocsis and the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra provide equally trenchant support.

Timings for both recordings give a clear indication of the differences in approach.
Steinbacher I 16.39 II 10.35 III 12.21
Kelemen I 15.12 II 9.03 III 11.09

Bartók's two Rhapsodies for Violin and Orchestra were dedicated to his regular recital partners and close friends, the eminent violinists Josef Szigeti and Zoltán Székely respectively. Each Rhapsody consists of a pair of contrasting sections (slow-fast). A short “Lassú section is followed by a longer “Friss”. Kelemen is in his element in both these attractive works combining virtuosity with an endearing folksy quality in his playing.

What, however, makes this SACD indispensable for all aficionados of Bartók's music and these three works in particular is the generous 22 minute appendix to these recordings. This provides complete performances of Bartók's alternative endings for the three works on the disc as follows:

1st Rhapsody “Friss” (2nd version)

2nd Rhapsody “Friss” (1st version)

Violin Concerto 3rd movement (1st version)

Programming one's player appropriately allows one to listen to either the complete first or second version of all three works. The differences make for fascinating comparisons but, particularly in the case of the Violin Concerto, one almost wishes that the composer had not acceded to Székely's request to keep the soloist in the limelight right up to the end. Bartók's original purely orchestral ending proves to be really thrilling, particularly when delivered, as here, with such fire by Kocsis and the Hungarian National PO.

The recording, made in the fine acoustic of the Palace of Arts, Budapest is, apart from the balance problem alluded to above, very fine indeed, clean and spacious with convincing depth. The surround channels providing the usual added bloom to the overall sound. Detailed and exceptionally informative booklet notes complete this exceptionally worthwhile issue.

Copyright © 2011 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Multichannel):

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