44 Duos Vn/Ballad & Dance/Ligatura
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
Top customer reviews
Perhaps it is Bartok that I had less enjoyment for. Many tracks were very moving, they were riveting, and the quality of every recording left nothing to be desired. However, and with that out of the way, I was not terribly impressed with the music itself. Some pieces seemed to drag on into eternity, I found my desire to skip them nearly overwhelming. Others begged for a repeat playing and then another, and again!
I am a fan of his earlier works, and it is perhaps this departure from his usual emotions and ranges of sound that left me slightly puzzled and at times disappointed. That is not to say this isn't a fantastic grouping to add to your musical collection. For every track you may dislike there are two more to take its place. This recording shows us a more toned down Bartok in many cases and yet doesn't leave us bereft of the skill his compositions always supplied.
I had yet to hear many pieces music on this album and cannot say my life was not enriched by listening to them, but it isn't something I will listen to often for more than a few pieces and that is a shame in and of itself.
This is Bartok at his most approachable. The 44 Duos were composed in the early Thirties as a kind of pendant to his 'For Children' for the piano. The initial purpose was didactic: a set of pieces for a German compendium of graded violin pieces. A little later this concept blossomed into the Mikrokosmos. Almost all are based on folk material, from all over the Balkans. Initially Bartok arranged them in order of difficulty but he anticipated that people would make selections of pieces for concert performance. In this recording, Andras Keller and Janos Pilz (both founding members of the Keller Quartet) have rearranged the order of the pieces so as to allow for sustained listening throughout the whole set. And this works admirably. It really is not a burden to sit through 52 minutes of music which occupies after all a relatively narrow textural bandwith. The overall impression is uplifting and cheerful but also epic, timeless. The music sounds like unbuttoned folk, yes, but in addition we hear echoes of Bach, Beethoven and, as Sandner discusses in his essay, also the grammar of New Music is brilliantly woven into the music. The avant garde echoes are subtly reinforced by the two very short works from other Hungarian composers - Ligeti and Kurtag - that are complementing this recording.
As for the performance, it is full of nuance and gorgeous phrasing. The order of performance is changed to suit variety, rather than increasing difficulty. The typically impeccable ECM recording standards suit this music perfectly. I've heard the Vegh performance as well, and am a huge fan of many Vegh Quartet recordings, but definitely prefer this release both in terms of performance and recording detail. I'd recommend looking into the Keller Quartet, both players on this disc are members, who have been issuing a number of excellent recordings (Dvorak, Bartok, Debussy/Ravel, Kurtag) that deserve broader exposure.