BARTÓK For Children
The late Zoltán Kocsis was among the first pianists to stress the musical value of Bartók’s collection For Children over and above its purely didactic function. As with albums for the young by Schumann and Tchaikovsky, the work’s contents, which during the course of its 80-minute journey become ever more technically and harmonically challenging, include pieces that if sensitively and poetically handled would grace any recital programme.
There are many similarities in approach between Kocsis and Andreas Bach but plenty of differences too. To take just one tiny sampling for comparison, Nos 26 and 27 from Book 2, the former marked moderato, where Bach toys with the pulse and Kocsis is straighter in that respect but subtly splits chords (also a tendency in Bartók’s own playing), whereas in the following playful Allegremente, Bach’s tempo is roughly twice that of Kocsis’s. What I’m referring to here is ‘swings and roundabouts’, a fairly appropriate metaphor in the case of For Children, but also musically apt. By contrast, in the two closing pieces both pianists capture the music’s elegiac spirit to perfection.
Bach’s approach, which has illuminated Bartók’s bigger-scale piano works in earlier volumes of the same series, is aimed at countering the perceived notion of Bartók as ‘remorselessly harsh’ (his term). Rather than follow the more aggressive trend set by certain of his contemporaries, he takes a significant prompt from Bartók’s own playing as captured on the numerous recordings that he left us (studio and broadcast). Kocsis, who was also steeped in Bartók’s own playing, was similarly disposed, as you can hear for yourself by comparing No 16’s ‘Old Hungarian Tune’, where Kocsis’s arpeggiated chords are even more conspicuously ‘old world’ than Bach’s, whereas in ‘Soldier’s Song’ (No 18) Kocsis picks up the tempo in a way that Bach doesn’t. It all makes for fascinating to-ing and fro-ing between two fine pianists in music that while often deceptively simple is also full of expressive potential. Quite an inspiration for amateur pianists I would have thought.