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Revelatory success

June de Toth plays
Bartók piano music -
reviewed by

'... a magisterial achievement.'

Bartok Solo Piano Works. Volumes I-V. June de Toth, piano. © 2004 Eroica Classical Recordings

Having assisted in the French sense at the unveiling of a statue to Bartók outside South Kensington station, I can say with confidence I should derive only pleasure if it decided to come to dinner, particularly as it seems in urgent need of a good meal. At least it has prompted me to get on with this review, especially as I slept through most of his First String Quartet during the celebrations. Location by the most elderly lines of London's malfunctioning underground system seems less eccentric when one realises Bartók lodged nearby in a suitably blue-plaqued house. The Peter Warlock Society was much involved in the statue project (hence two playings of the Capriol Suite).

The Bartók statue at South Kensington tube station in London. Photo: Keith Bramich
The Bartók statue at South Kensington tube station in London. Photo: Keith Bramich

Warlock (or Heseltine) had got Cecil Gray to write an article on Bartók for his Sackbut magazine, and both visited Bartók in Budapest. Gray was there first, and for quick identification in 1920 Bartók described his appearance: 'I am very thin, have grey hairs, and am wearing spectacles.' He would also be carrying a copy of The Sackbut. Maybe he was also wearing the characteristic hat now on the head of the statue. Heseltine arrived in April 1921, and was captivated at once. He told Delius that 'Bartók is quite one of the most lovable personalities I have ever met', and continued to his Eton teacher in considering him 'one of the half-dozen finest creative intelligences in the musical world of today'. Both he and Gray coincided with Bartók in his middle period, artistically acerbic and uncompromising.

In Gray's opinion, Bartók was 'one of the saints and fanatics of music'. Kodály understood Gray's view of Bartók's 'harsh asceticism' in creation, 'whether masochistic or sadistic'. Kodály described this as a phase through which Bartók had to pass but from which he would emerge, as proved the case. How does this affect the piano music? The only pieces properly freed from Bartók's flagellatory period are in the Mikrokosmos set, which does not feature here. On these CDs we have a judicious mix of crash-bang Bartók and delectable offerings lasting sometimes less than a minute.

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Copyright © 1 December 2004 Robert Anderson, London UK


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