This is quite simply one of the most important and consistently superbly executed recording projects of all time. Bartók's piano music isn't exactly overrepresented on disc, being as it is without doubt one of the most important piano oeuvres ever composed, and in the hand of Zoltán Kocsis, doubtlessly one of the greatest pianists alive today, one should expect some superb discs where the works at long last receive the treatment they deserve. In fact, the actual result surpasses any possible expectations.
One of the most persistent questions that musicians ask themselves while practicing a piece is the inevitable query of how the composer himself might have performed his music. There are many written reports on how the old masters such as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven may have played or improvised; and there are lines of teacher/pupil relationships which can trace their lineage back to the pianistic greats such as Liszt, but still we have to imagine the sound since we cannot actually hear it.
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.
Neither too nationalist nor too internationalist, this 1995 recording of Béla Bartók's two violin concertos featuring Thomas Zehetmair with Ivan Fischer leading the Budapest Festival Orchestra is just right. Austrian-born Zehetmair has a fabulous technique, a warm but focused tone, and lively sense of rhythm, all of which make him an ideal Bartók player. His interpretations are less about showing off then about digging in, and his performances are more about the music than they are about the musician. Hungarian conductor Fischer and his Hungarian orchestra are not only up for the music in a technical sense, they are also down with the music in an emotional sense, and their accompaniments ground Zehetmair's coolly flamboyant performances. Captured in white-hot sound that is almost too vivid for its own good, these performances deserve to stand among the finest ever recorded.
Alfred Schnittke and Arvo Pärt have both called the Ukrainian Valentin Silvestrov "one of the greatest composers of our time”. He is also one of its true originals; though a leading figure in the former Soviet Union’s avant-garde in the 1960s, he subsequently came to realise that "the most important lesson of the avant-garde was to be free of all preconceived ideas – particularly those of the avant-garde." Silvestrov was born in Kiev in 1937 and studied the piano at Kiev Evening Music School, then composition, harmony and counterpoint at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory. His early experimental orientation meant that his work received official criticism in the Soviet Union and, despite prizes and some prominent champions, recognition in his homeland and beyond was hard won. Over time, Silvestrov’s compositional practice evolved into what he would come to call his “metaphorical style” or “meta-music.” The composer wishes his works to be seen as “codas” to musical history because “fewer and fewer texts are possible which… begin at the beginning”. He has declared that “I do not write new music. My music is a response to and an echo of what already exists.”
These pre-Chicago recordings of Fritz Reiner with the Pittsburghers is a reminder of his greatness as a conductor. It also restores to the catalog his recordings of some composers he wasn't closely identified with. Shostakovitch, for example, wasn't a regular on Reiner's studio schedule, but should have been, for this Sixth bristles with sardonic wit and energy. The Kodaly Dances, of course, were right up Reiner's alley, and get a smashing performance. The shorter works too, are first class, especially the Bart243;k Hungarian Sketches and another Reiner calling card, Kabalevsky's Colas Breugnon Overture. Weiner's string Divertimento is charming, but the real prize may be Glinka's Kamarinskaya, given a peformance that shimmers and glistens with delicacy and life. Sony's restoration of the 1945-1947 recordings is faultless.
Long admired for her powerful playing and respected as a champion of new music, Anne-Sophie Mutter is the recipient of numerous pieces composed especially for her by the leading contemporary masters. Henri Dutilleux wrote his nocturne for violin and orchestra, Sur le même accord, for Mutter, and this live, world-premiere recording of the debut performance demonstrates why composers trust her with their music.
2CD anthology of two albums previously released by EMI, with Seiji Ozawa conducting the Orchestre de Paris and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. A rare, hard to find recording of historical value.