BARTOK: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (Antoni Wit/ Gyorgy Pauk/ Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.554321)
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Violin Concertos Nos.
1 and 2
Enshrined in Hungary's history as its foremost composer, Bela Bartokcontinues to gain in popularity as the century draws to a close. There can beno doubt that his name will be included among the greatest composers from thefirst half of the twentieth century and that his music will endure the changesin taste that will inevitably occur in 'classical' music. His innovative use ofeastern European folk music as the most significant inspirational source hasleft us a legacy of works which are highly individual and fresh even more thanfifty years after his passing. He remains without comparable peers in hisstyle, which transcends the barriers of art and folk, east and west. Some wouldeven argue that his influence can be observed in music which fuses classicaland jazz. As information continues to emerge of the details of his life andcharacter, we realise that this genius was not only a combination of composer,performer, teacher and ethnomusicologist, but a man with strong interest in thelaws of nature and with some eccentric aspects to his personality.
A relatively youthful work, written in 1907-08, Bartok's first concertodemonstrates considerable change in writing style since his earlier major work,the symphonic poem Kossuth, of 1903. His folk-music collaboration withZoltan Kodaly had begun in 1905 and by the time work began on ViolinConcerto No. 1 he had already published his first Hungarian folksongsettings, had started to collect folk music with an Edison phonograph, and hadbegun an investigation of Rumanian folk music. The influence of the music ofDebussy and Reger has also been noted in the compositions of this period.
One cannot discuss this work without reference to Stefi Geyer, the youngviolinist with whom Bartok became totally besotted. During the compositionperiod hewas clearly deeply in love with her and this work, dedicated to her, isundoubtedly the musical expression of his feelings. Geyer was later to describethe first movement as 'the young girl whom he had loved' and the second as 'theviolinist whom he had admired'. Bartok himself described the first movement ashis 'most direct' music, 'written exclusively from the heart'. The opening D F#A C# motif is the germ of the work and is alluded to in many instances in laterworks, including his final work, the Viola Concerto of 1945. In itsminor form, C# E G# B#, Bartok described it in a letter to Geyer of September,1907, as 'your leitmotif'. This motif was also used, probably coincidentally,by Vernon Duke in I Can't Get Started (1935). Geyer never performed thework and in fact it remained unplayed in its original two movement form untilafter her death. The first performance in Basle on 30th May, 1958 featured theviolinist Hans-Heinz Schneeberger and conductor Paul Sacher. Prior to this thefirst movement became, with minor modifications, the first of the TwoPortraits, the second movement being an orchestrated version of the last ofthe Fourteen Bagatelles, renamed Grotesque.
Just as his first violin concerto was dedicated to a violinist, so toowas the second. The wording 'To my dear friend, Zoltan Szekely' showsthe depth of their friendship and professional relationship. After writing the TwoViolin Rhapsodies in 1928, Bartok invited Szekely to choose one asdedicatee. He selected the second and the first was subsequently dedicated toSzigeti.
The close involvement of Szekely in the genesis of the first violinconcertos is of particular interest. As he had commissioned the concerto, hetook a strong interest in its development and offered advice to the composerduring their violin and piano rehearsals. These suggestions included changingand adding notes, altering articulations and even a reworking of somestructural aspects. Bartok originally proposed a one-movement work withvariations but Szekely objected, requesting a 'real' three-movement concerto.
In the original ending of the work there was no role for the solo violin. AgainSzekely requested that the work end 'like a concerto, not a symphony' Bartokobliged and added an alternative ending, though leaving the original versionavailable. In spite of agreeing to write a three-?¡movement work, Bartok had thelast word as shown in his letter to Szekely when referring to the third movement 'strictlyspeaking, it is a free variation of the first movement (so I managed to outwityou. I wrote variations after all)'.
While this work demonstrates highly sophisticated use of twelve-tonestructures, imitative devices and tonal and rhythmic features, its flavour isinspired by folk music and the opening theme is derived specifically from folkdances collected from Transylvanian peasant violinists.