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Viola Concerto restored

an important addition to
Bartók's recorded legacy

Concordance    CCD03

Bartók: Viola Concerto. © 2002 Concordance Ltd

This is, I believe, a very important addition to the Bartók discography, and represents a labour of devotion, determination and considerable scholarship on the part of Csaba Erdélyi, the soloist here. He has been working continuously over many years, through many revisions, and against considerable opposition and obstruction, to produce this version of Bartók's unfinished swansong. It lays fair claim to be the most authentic summation of the composer's intentions.

I first encountered the work in my student days in the 1960s and was captivated by the music itself, whilst feeling that it it did not quite have the unmistakeable flavour of authentic Bartók. What I heard was the well-known realisation made by Tibor Serly in 1949, which takes considerable liberties with the notes,and includes interpolations and orchestration that remind me more of Bartók's compatriot and contemporary, Kodály. The two may have had similar nationalistic sympathies, but one could never be mistaken for the other.

A revision of the Serly version was made in 1995 by Peter Bartók, the composer's son, and Nelson Dellamaggiore. Naxos have usefully issued both versions in tandem on 8.554183, and this is an excellent disc for exploring developments up to then. In truth, the differences are rather minimal to my ears, but the excision of a few bars of pure Serly and a retouching of the orchestration bring the music a little closer to what Bartók left.

Erdélyi, however, has spent many years researching the work, considerably hampered by Peter Bartók's suppression of the original score. He is, however, a violist, a scholar and, not least, a Hungarian, and he has steeped himself in Bartók's style and orchestration, such that the new version has a definite authentic ring and recognisable Bartókian flavour. It is essential listening for all enthusiasts.

The present recording was made in New Zealand, where different copyright laws made performances possible when they were banned in the northern hemisphere. The cloak-and-dagger aspects of this scenario are almost as fascinating as the work itself, including threats of litigation for those who have the temerity to perform this 'illegal' work in the wrong place! Legal advice in New Zealand considers that the recording can only be sold there, or over the internet, unless the situation has changed. I don't know the provenance of my review copy! You can read the fascinating details of the musical and legal aspects of the story in the excellent accompanying booklet, and a visit to is fascinating.

Erdélyi the soloist is quite excellent; passionate, committed and Hungarian through and through in his understanding and advocacy of this fascinating score. The NZSO under Marc Taddei offer stylish support, and the recording per se is superb, the dark, burnished quality ideally suited to the music. And what music! Listen to the glorious outpouring of the lento [track 3, 0:01-0:49], and the virtuosic dance that is the finale [track 6, 3:10-4:11], and resist if you can.

If you want to do some serious homework on the genesis of this marvellous, if incomplete work, I would strongly recommend investing in the excellent Naxos recording of the earlier realisations, as well as this essential new recording. No version will ever give us the full picture of where Bartók's final thoughts may have taken him, had he been spared to realise them, but violists and serious listeners alike will be grateful to Erdélyi for taking us that bit closer.

There is no room to discuss a very warm romantic and highly competitive account of Berlioz' Harold in Italy. It is hugely enjoyable in its own right, but the 'new' Bartók is the main issue here, I think.

Copyright © 14 December 2002 David Thompson, Eastwood, Essex, UK


Bartók Viola Concerto

CCD03 Stereo NEW RELEASE 61'24" 2002 Concordance Ltd

Csaba Erdélyi, viola, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Marc Taddei, conductor

Béla Bartók: Viola Concerto; Berlioz: Harold en Italie



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