Bartók's Duos are triple-threats: progressions of very brief practice works for violinists from students to skilled artists; transformations of folk dances and songs into art works; and pieces for concert performance, either piecemeal or complete. The Keller-Pilz duo makes its own sequence of the 44 primarily to heighten contrasts and sustain interest, a practice sanctioned by Bartók since the published order progressing from easiest to most difficult doesn't complement the pure listening experience. This revised order certainly works in these spirited performances.
Keller and Pilz convey the full range of Bartók's technical demands, even while they bring out the folk elements that pervade the music. In their opening "Transylvanian Song," they sound like village fiddlers; they quietly buzz away in the "Mosquito Dance" and seamlessly weave their contrasting lines in the more abstract Prelude and Canon. Further feats of violinism are expertly performed in the finger-breaking "Pizzicato" and the tremolos of the "Arabian Song." It's not all village fun or violinistic virtuosity either. Some of the slower pieces, such as the fragile "Ruthenian Song" and the moving "Lament," touch the heart. The brief fillers are a pair of similarly folk-based violin duos by Ligeti and Kurtág's hushed, pianissimo "Ligatura." Vibrant sound and ECM's usual deluxe packaging complete a highly desirable production. --Dan Davis