Bartók Piano Works, Vol.4
Each successive release in Zoltan Kocsis’s Bartok series reaffirms the accolades that greeted previous volumes in the series (1/94, 11/94 and 6/95), and this particular CD has the additional benefit of including two incomparable masterpieces. Both the Piano Sonata and Out of doors date from 1926, whereas the contemporaneous Nine Little Pieces (hardly less great in their way) should be far better known.
Kocsis’s mastery of tone, rhythm and articulation, allied to his painstaking attention to important source material (namely Bartok’s scores and records), make for a level of pianistic distinction that is fairly unique in this repertory. To say that, with Kocsis, ‘less is more’ is to suggest executive reticence, which is certainly not the case. The first movements of both the Sonata and Out of doors hit hard without hammering, the former displaying a multitude of tiny inflexional gestures and pulse changes, the latter, a quick-boiling final chase of great intensity. I have not heard playing of this calibre since the days of 78s – and by that I mean playing where so much rhythmic flexibility is achieved within such a disciplined interpretative framework. The Sonata’s granitic Sostenuto e pesante is ‘heavy’, yes, but never plodding – and the foot-stamping Allegro molto finale leaps then retreats like some teasing tribal dancer.
In Out of doors, Kocsis’s ability to command differing colours simultaneously heightens the musical effect, especially in the “Barcarolla” and what is surely the most exquisitely tooled performance of “The Night’s Music” ever recorded. “The Chase” is pin-sharp, its every gear-change expertly negotiated, while Kocsis makes maximum capital out of the rich harmonic world in “Musettes”. The Nine Little Pieces transcend their brevity, “Menuetto” recalling the second movement of the First Piano Concerto (another product of 1926), the closing “Preludio – All’Ungherese” providing a little mini-suite all on its own. The disc closes with the Petite Suite, a tuneful half-dozen ingeniously refashioned from the 44 Duos for two violins.
Philips’s sound is excellent, Max Harrison’s notes are too, and the musical programme is, as I have already suggested, very well planned. Given the superb quality of this production, I feel reluctant to end on a critical note, and yet 49 minutes is simply not good enough for a full-price, solo piano CD – especially one that forms part of an ongoing series and that therefore could have contained more music. In other respects, however, this is unquestionably one of the great piano records of the post-war period.'