Indelible confirmation that, at least as far as music is concerned, 'small is beautiful' and that in terms of quality, the best miniature can vie with—and even outclass—many a musical marathon. Both sets of pieces were intended primarily as teaching material, although selections from them would sit comfortably in the context of an appropriate chamber music programme. The Fuchs pieces date from 1896 and make for delightful listening, even though none lasts longer than 2'11'' and the first violin predominates throughout. However, the music's melodic appeal is instant, its part-writing and harmonic language varied and colourful, while the present performers—the co-leaders of the Emerson Quartet—imbue each jewel with a veritable catalogue of subtle expressive effects. Brahms, Schubert and Schumann are obvious points of reference, although had any one of those masters penned similar duets, I doubt that he could have outclassed this delightful sequence.
Bartok's 44 Duos are of course far better known. They were composed in 1931 and reflect the individual complexions of various Eastern folk musics—including Slovakian, Hungarian, Romanian, Ruthenian, Serbian, Ukrainian and Arabic. The rhythmic, coloristic and melodic complexions surveyed either recall or anticipate many of Bartok's concert works (six of the Duos were actually re-worked as the Petite Suite for solo piano), while the interplay between Drucker and Setzer is in itself a constant source of joy. Again, the playing is hugely facilitating, although in this case the style employed is quite unlike the sweeter, relatively old-fashioned manner favoured for the Fuchs pieces. Here the emphasis is more on rhythm, texture, tension and timing, the overall approach similar to that which might be employed for, say, Bartok's string quartets. Comparisons with my two favoured alternatives find Vegh and Lysy more 'folksy' and loose-limbed but less tonally alluring, whereas the richly expressive Andre Gertler/Josef Suk recording (Supraphon, 7/68, and once available here on a Sound CD)—which would serve as this newcomer's closest rival—is no longer available.
Anyone seeking a thumb-nail catalogue of Bartokian techniques and devices will find these Duos at least as rewarding as the last three books of the great Mikrokosmos piano cycle, while the recordings are excellent and Robin Stowell's well-written accompanying essay provides all the background information you need to know. A must for all string players and chamber music connoisseurs.'