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Briefly Noted: More Faustian Bartók

available at Amazon
Bartók, Violin Concertos 1/2, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, D. Harding

(released on August 13, 2013)
HMC 902146 | 57'59"
You can throw another top-notch recording of Bartók's two violin concertos on the pile. Why would so many of the leading violinists of our time make recordings of the Bartók concertos? The answer is in the music, two pieces that feature some exquisite writing for the violin as well as head-spinning technical challenges (especially no. 2, heard live most recently from Midori and Leonidas Kavakos). Faust's rendition of the first concerto, from the first decade of the 20th century, stands out for her sheer gorgeousness of tone in the radiant soft passages. The same is true of the shimmering flautando sound in the much more raucous second concerto, from the 1930s, overall the more dissonant and barbaric of the two. No. 2's menacing middle movement, with some dazzingly inventive orchestration, sounds vaguely like haunted Britten in some ways. These qualities distinguished her recording of the Berg concerto, too.

Faust generally makes up for indulging in this kind of delicacy with a vocal garrulousness in the fast movements, often at dizzying tempi (the finale of no. 2, for example), which still feels more urgent than rushed (a quality also observed in her Schumann sonatas). The German violinist continues to rise in my estimation, after a fine Beethoven set and her solo Bartók recording. You can hear some of her thoughts on these concertos in her interview with John Clare (MP3). Among the best of other recent recordings, Faust contends with James Ehnes with Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic (Chandos), packaged with the Viola Concerto, which is a nice touch; Arabella Steinbacher with Marek Janowski and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (Pentatone); and Thomas Zehetmair with Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra, which is more sharp-edged and the best in terms of both conductor and orchestra. Zehetmair is even a hair faster in the finale of no. 2, but his legato/pianissimo playing is not nearly as heart-melting as Faust's.


Anonymous said...

Which ending for No. 2?

Charles T. Downey said...

Right, Faust played the original conclusion to the second concerto.