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The Voland Quartet comprises Ivo Varbanov (an old friend) and Michal Drewnowski -- two pianos, Christo Yotzov and Radovet 'Eti' Kukudov, percussionists. Their 27 December 2006 concert featured Bartók and five others: Ben-Shabtai (born in Jerusalem), Arnaoudov (Sofia), Arutiunian (Yerevan), Bauer (Lodz) and Yotzov (Sofia).

The Bartók, although slightly less good music than its more extrovert counterpart, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste, was the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. The overall score timing, allowing for the composer's wide range of metronome markings is 23'30", but the performance here and on a separate CD clocks in at thirty one minutes.

Apparently, Bartók stressed clarity of notation during performance, so I decided to compare with a selected American Westminster recording reissued by myself briefly on EMI's HMV Classical mid-price long play record label with Edith Farnadi and Istvan Antal, I and O Schwarz. If one wishes for metronome accuracy, and a Hungarian idiom with accurate adherance towards all markings then it takes some beating, but the sudden, drastic speed increases (ie the close of the first movement starts with a Meno vivo, crotchet=176, finishing on 132) makes for some clarification doubts and considerable score reading expertise. The slightly distant sound also clouds my impressions. No such problems with the Voland's new recording Gega GD310 with its slightly slower speeds throughout, doing nothing to impair enjoyment. It does not quite catch the rhythmic flow and excitement but Bartók may have been in two minds (as Dorati allowed for in his Mercury recorded performance of Music for S,P & C). From a practical setpoint Varbanov and co now create a fresh realization of this neglected work that could encourage newcomers to start performing it once more. Both their live performance and CD take us on enjoyable excursions into minor territories for the remainder.

Follow the order of composers above for Hora (1997) which has slants on Copland and Milhaud, Variations on a theme by S Rachmaninov (2001) -- the banal opening to his Piano Concerto No 3, treated with snazzy South American offbeats and disguised orchestration that all but ruins it. Festive (1962) is more potent -- an alternative to Khachaturian, minus the authenticity, but Musical Moments (2004) has Bernstein, Satie and Carnival music at the helm. Best is Divertimento (1936) in three movements: fleeting, caressing and lively, with better balancing of ideas and renditions. Enjoyable and informative.

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Copyright © 1 March 2007 Bill Newman, Edgware UK


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