In any varied collection of Bartók's piano music, one is likely to encounter the folk-music side of this Hungarian composer, as well as his pedagogical persona. Here we have healthy doses of each of these, and let it be said that the term 'pedagogical' is applied here in the best possible sense. When Bartók, for example, explored percussive sounds of the piano, as in the opening piece here, With Drums and Pipes, from Out of Doors, he did so quite entertainingly, quite compellingly. All five of the works in Out of Doors are, in fact, both instructive and enjoyable, each deftly conveying some rather bizarre sound world. Indeed, try #4, The Night's Music, for something deliciously atmospheric, deliciously creepy.
The Four Dirges are less colorful in their generally gloomy idiom but still compelling works, seeming to connect spiritually with the dark manner of much late-Liszt. The Two Romanian Dances exhibit the composer's folkish side, the first also divulging a diabolical Lisztian character, particularly calling to mind the Czardas Macabre. The Ten Easy Pieces and Three Hungarian Folktunes are charming, light Bartók, also fashioned from folk sources. #10, Bear Dance, is perhaps the best of the Ten Easy Pieces and isn't all that 'easy' to play. Neither is the much more challenging Allegro barbaro, a work which has rightly received considerable attention over the years.
Among the best works on the disc are the Three Burlesques, the middle of which, A Little Tipsy, is probably the most famous. Bartók orchestrated it as one of the Hungarian Sketches, and if there is a work in all classical literature that better portrays drunkenness in a comical way, right down to the hiccups and staggering, I don't know what it is.
Jenő Jandó, as he clearly demonstrated in his disc of the three Bartók piano concertos for Naxos, deftly captures just about every facet of the composer's vast expressive character. He certainly has the technique and interpretive acumen, not to mention idiomatic grasp, of Bartók's music. There aren't too many pianists today who can rival him in this repertory. Notes and sounds to this Naxos release are splendid. Recommended.
Copyright © 2004, Robert Cummings