It was in these terms that Ferruccio Busoni greeted the publication in 1908 of the 14 Bagatelles, in which Béla Bartók conveyed the violent aesthetic impact of his discovery of authentic Hungarian peasant music. Over the next 20 years, up to the magisterial Sonata of 1926, he indefatigably refined an innovative pianistic language: pungent, dissonant, percussive, with multiple new playing techniques, that was to influence the entire 20th century. A master of every style, from Haydn to Boulez by way of Chopin and Chabrier, Alain Planès is revealed here as a Bartókian of the front rank.
On Soli, Tamsin Waley-Cohen's 2015 release on Signum Classics, the violinist explores modernist repertoire composed between 1944 and 2005. Because these solo violin pieces by Béla Bartók, George Benjamin, Krzysztof Penderecki, Elliott Carter, and György Kurtág are challenging for both the player and the listener, one should approach this CD with some awareness that they reflect different phases of the avant-garde movement that dominated music in the last half of the 20th century. In quieter selections where the moods are primarily brooding or lyrical, Waley-Cohen produces a vibrant tone and smooth phrasing that make her playing easy to appreciate, even when the music isn't recognizably tonal. However, in louder, dissonant passages, notably in sections of the Bartók Sonata, Benjamin's Canon for Sally, Carter's Remembering Aaron, and Kurtág's Anziksz Kellerannanak, the close microphone placement makes her bowing sound overly resinous and scratchy, which can be hard to enjoy. Even so, few violinists dare approach this bracing material, and Waley-Cohen is to be commended for devoting a whole album to such cutting-edge pieces solely on her terms, without making compromises.
Three 20th-century orchestral scores, Bartók’s Two Pictures, Debussy’s Jeux and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, all dating from 1910-13 and all linked (as the detailed CD booklet explains), are brought to life in the hands of two exceptional French pianists. The central interest is the ballet Jeux. One of the world’s outstanding Debussy interpreters, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet has added to his complete Chandos recordings with his own transcription for two pianos. Written late in Debussy’s life for Nijinsky, Jeux involves an emotionally erotic and harmonically daring game of tennis. Bavouzet and his well-matched partner, François-Fréderic Guy, play with nimble grace, capturing the works wit and mystery. This gripping album is dedicated to Pierre Boulez, guru and enabler, for his 90th birthday.
Études are primarily intended as exercises to train musicians in specific techniques, but since the Romantic era they have become associated with other miniature forms, such as the prelude and the intermezzo, and frequently regarded as evocative character pieces or tonal pictures. Garrick Ohlsson's album of piano études by Claude Debussy, Sergey Prokofiev, and Béla Bartók offers a brief survey of the genre in modern practice, and demonstrates the blending of pedagogy and poetry in these works. Ohlsson has become internationally known as an exquisite interpreter of the music of Frédéric Chopin, and much of the subtlety and atmosphere found in his previous recordings is present here. Ohlsson's finesse and humor are perhaps most evident in Debussy's Études, L. 143, which have a lighter character than Prokofiev's Études, Op. 2, which tend toward the sardonic side, and Bartók's Études, Op. 18, which are intensely virtuosic and mysterious. Hyperion's recording captures the nuances of Ohlsson's playing, and the piano is close enough to hear every detail, while the acoustics lend it a pleasant natural aura.
There are several reasons to own this Vox Box 2CD set. For the first, it includes five great violin concertos in some of the very best performances in their discography. For the second, Ivry Gitlis (born 1922) is a great living violinist and these recordings made in early 1950s show his art in the best way, when Ivry's violin sounded powerful and brilliant.
This live Appassionata, from a Moscow recital of 1959, is one of the most thrilling piano performances ever recorded. Sviatoslav Richter fills every moment of the first movement with intense drama, creates the illusion of total repose in the central variations, and then takes off in the finale with an exhibition of musical virtuosity and ever-increasing tension that becomes almost unbearably intense (and unbelievably fast and accurate). The studio Pathétique is quite fine, and the Fantasy (sung in Russian!) well performed by all but still rather quaint in its effect. But don't miss that Appassionata!
October 21, 2012 marks Sir Georg Solti's centenary and Decca is celebrating this with several important reissues. Sir Georg was an exclusive Decca artist for 50 years.