BARTOK: Rhapsodies Nos. 1 and 2 / Piano Quintet (Gyorgy Pauk/ Ibolya Toth/ Jeno Jando/ Kodaly Quartet) (Naxos: 8.550886)
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Bela Bartok (1881-1945)
First Rhapsody (Folk Dances)
Second Rhapsody (Folk Dances)
Piano Quintet (1903-4)
The Hungarian composer Bela Bartok was born in 1881 in an area that nowforms part of Romania. His father, director of an agricultural college, was akeen amateur musician, while it was from his mother that he received his earlypiano lessons. The death of his father in 18891ed to a less settled existence,as his mother resumed work as a teacher, eventually settling in the Slovakcapital of Bratislava (the Hungarian Pozsony), where Bartok passed his earlyadolescence, counting among his school-fellows the composer Erno Dohnanyi.
Offered the chance of musical training in Vienna, like Dohnanyi he choseinstead Budapest, where he won a considerable reputation as a pianist, beingappointed to the teaching staff of the Academy of Music in 1907. At the sametime he developed a deep interest, shared with his compatriot Zoltan Kodaly,in the folk-music of his own and adjacent countries, later extended as far asAnatolia, where he collaborated in research with the Turkish composer AdnanSaygan.
As a composer Bartok found acceptance much more difficult, particularly inhis own country, which was, in any case, beset by political troubles, when thebrief post-war left-wing government of Bela Kun was replaced by the reactionaryregime of Admiral Horthy. Meanwhile his reputation abroad grew, particularlyamong those with an interest in contemporary music, and his success both as apianist and as a composer, coupled with dissatisfaction at the growingassociation between the Horthy government and National Socialist Germany, ledhim in 1940 to emigrate to the United States of America.
In his last years, after briefly held teaching appointments at Columbia andHarvard, Bartok suffered from increasing ill-health, and from poverty which theconditions of exile in war-time could do nothing to alleviate. He died instraitened circumstances in 1945, leaving a new Viola Concerto incompleteand a Third Piano Concerto more nearly finished. The years in America,whatever difficulties they brought, also gave rise to other importantcompositions, including the Concerto for Orchestra, commissioned by theKoussevitzky Foundation, a Sonata for Solo Violin for Yehudi Menuhin and,in the year before he left Hungary, Contrasts, for Szigeti and BennyGoodman.
The two Rhapsodies, originally for violin and piano, were both writtenin 1928, the year of Bartok's Fourth Quartet. Both Rhapsodies appearedin versions for solo violin and orchestra, possibly the composer's finalintention, and in versions for violin, viola and cello, with the first also in aversion in which the solo cello replaces the solo violin. The orchestral versionof the First Rhapsody, modestly scored, includes a cimbalom, for thefirst and only time in his compositions. Both works are in two movements, lass??followed by friss, as in the standard Hungarian dances, the verbunkos,or recruiting-dance, and the csardas.
The lass?? of the First Rhapsody starts with a melody that isinitially based on the ascending scale in the Lydian mode. A second section isdominated by the characteristic short-long rhythm also familiar in traditionalScottish music. The movement ends with the return of the first material and aclosing reference to the second. The friss, after a brief introduction,turns to a melody that may seem all too familiar to American listeners. Thesecond section, with its variations of speed, moves on to music of greaterexcitement, finally slowing to a reminiscence of the lass?? and a briefcadenza. The work is dedicated to Joseph Szigeti.
Both Rhapsodies were subject to much revision by the composer, the SecondRhapsody notably in 1945. Dedicated to Zoltcln Szekely, the opening lass??starts with a characteristic melody in D minor that re-appears twice, firstin a higher register, with harmonically contradictory accompaniment, and finallyin conjunction with another theme that had appeared in the second episode ofwhat is in fact a rondo. Characteristic rhythmic accompaniment opens the friss,introducing the modal first melody. A second section, marked Molto moderato,pesante, leads to the increasing excitement expected of the dance, before anAllegro non troppo and music that continues to use varied and innovativetechnical, harmonic and rhythmic devices.
The Andante of 1902 and the Piano Quintet written in 1903 and1904 are works of a very different kind. In the first of these the influence ofRichard Strauss can be detected. Bartok had heard in 1902 the first Budapestperformance of Also Sprach Zarathustra, a work that had a profound effecton him and led him to the study of other Strauss scores and to the transcriptionfor piano of Ein Heldenleben. The Quintet was completed inGerlicepuszta in the Gomor district in July 1904. The following month Bartoktravelled to Bayreuth to hear Parsifal. In October he gave the firstperformance of the Quintet in Vienna with the Frill Quartet and thefollowing year took it with him to Paris for the Prix Rubinstein. There,however, the work was not heard, while the Violin Sonata of 1903 and thepiano Rhapsody, Opus 1, failed to impress a generally conservative jury,which included the violinist Leopold Auer from St Petersburg. The Quintet, itsmovements thematically linked in a way that suggests the influence of Liszt,follows the example of Dohnanyi and is romantic in tone, with suggestions ofBrahms and Richard Strauss in the writing. The last two movements in particularhave a distinctly Hungarian flavour, a counterpart of the traditional lass??
and friss. Bartok did not publish the work but played it on lateroccasions and took it with him to the United States. It remains of more thanhistorical interest and marks, as the composer seems to have seen it, the end ofhis apprenticeship as a composer. In November 1904 he completed his piano Rhapsody,numbered Opus 1.
The Hungarian pianist Jeno Jando has won a number of piano competitions inHungary and abroad, including first prize in the 1973 Hungarian Piano Concoursand a first prize in the chamber music category at the Sydney InternationalPiano Competition in 1977. He has recorded for Naxos all the piano concertos andsonatas of Mozart. Other recordings for the Naxos label include the concertos ofGrieg and Schumann as well as Rachmaninov's Second Concerto and PaganiniRhapsody and Beethoven's complete piano sonatas.
Gyorgy Pauk was born in Budapest in 1936 and had his first violin lessons atthe age of five. He studied at the Franz Liszt Academy and made his orchestraldebut at the age of fourteen and in the 1950s won the Paganini Competition inGenoa, the Munich Sonata Competition, with the pianist Peter Frankl, and theLong-Thibaud Competition in Paris. He made his London Festival Hall debut in1961, settling in England, his base thereafter for a distinguished internationalcareer. In addition to his command of standard solo violin repertoire GyorgyPauk is known for his championship of contemporary music, with firstperformances of works by Lutoslawski, Penderecki, Schnittke and Maxwell Davies,and for his perceptive and committed performance of the music of Bela Bartok.
He plays the 1714 Massart Stradivarius.