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CD Review

Béla Bartók

Alpha 205
  • Violin Concerto #2, Sz. 112
  • Concerto for Orchestra, Sz. 116
Tedi Papavrami, violin
Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg/Emmanuel Krivine
Alpha Classics 205 76:16
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As I noted in my recent review of a disc of his piano works (MSR Classics MS1410), Béla Bartók wrote hundreds of short works, many that can be described as miniatures. His musical thought seemed to thrive when he focused on small units of time. Even in his relatively few large compositions – like the violin concerto here – he often seemed to invest the music with many brief episodes, where themes, variations, second subjects and transitions come and go quickly. In short, Bartók packs a lot of music and ideas into relatively short spans of time. To keep up with him in his Second Violin Concerto, a soloist must be able to shift gears quickly and subtly to catch all the thematic variants, mood swings and other fleeting activity. Tedi Papavrami misses no significant expressive detail in this complex concerto.

The first movement is especially fraught with ideas and complexities, but Papavrami always seems to find a convincing manner of expression. Listen to his passionate statement of the big rhapsodic main theme and notice his subtle control of dynamics, used to draw out maximum expressive yield. Or hear how he vigorously and crisply plays those racing notes leading into the development section. His cadenza is full of tension and drama too, and his statement of the second movement main theme is actually slightly understated, but it works so well. The main theme to the finale has always struck me as somewhat bland, but Papavrami gets the most out it with his subtle phrasing and wide range of dynamics. Clearly he is a superior violinist as I first noted in my review of his recording of the Prokofiev violin concertos back in 1997 (Naxos 8.553494). Emmanuel Krivine and the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg offer quite spirited support, making this rendition of the Bartók Second Concerto a worthy contender with the better versions. Those include efforts by David Oistrakh and Anne Sophie Mutter (DG). Papavrami is at or near their level.

As for the Concerto for Orchestra the competition is stiffer. This is a difficult work to bring off, but Stokowski made an excellent recording of it in 1960 with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, then not exactly in the forefront of American orchestras. Krivine turns in fine work too, even if this orchestra is also not at the world-class level. This performance strikes you as very atmospheric, well-rehearsed and suavely delivered, but perhaps lacking a bit in grit and depth, though certainly not in spirit. Mind you, it's hard to find anything in this account that isn't extremely well played and well shaped: try the colorful and playful rendition of the second movement, or notice the subtlety put into creating the mysterious atmosphere at the outset of the third movement and the almost palpable anguish that follows. The Shostakovich parody in the ensuing movement is deliciously satirical and great fun, and the outer panels are also very convincingly played. Iván Fischer, Antal Doráti, Andre Previn, the aforementioned Stokowski and many others have offered fine accounts of this Bartók work. This one by Krivine may not topple the very best, but it's a fine performance still, and it is coupled with an excellent version of the Second Violin Concerto. Good sound reproduction in both works and fine album notes round out this imposing offering by Alpha Classics.

Copyright © 2015, Robert Cummings