Some piano music is meant to be listened to, some piano music is meant to be played, and some piano music is meant to be listened to and played. Beethoven's piano sonatas are meant to be listened to -- and, for a few very talented pianists, to be played. Bach's Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach is meant to be played -- and, by piano teachers and kindhearted listeners, to be listened to. Brahms' late Klavierstücke are meant to be played and listened to -- provided the amateur pianist is good enough and his or her friends are indulgent enough. Bartók's Mikrokosmos are meant to be played -- and, every once and a while, to be listened to. They are, after all, the quintessential pedagogic pieces: 122 works arranged in order of difficulty over six books meant to engage, entertain, enlighten, and ultimately educate the budding pianist -- and no more meant to be listened to from end to end than Clementi's Gradus ad Parnassum. That doesn't mean there aren't beautiful and beguiling pieces inside the Mikrokosmos, there assuredly are, but it does mean that sitting down to listen straight through to 147 minutes and 37 seconds of Mikrokosmos is more than most people should be asked to do.
That said, Jenö Jandó 2005 recording of Mikrokosmos is eminently listenable. Jandó is the Hungarian pianist and Naxos recording artist who has recorded vast swathes of the standard piano repertoire, but his heart remains in his home country of Bartóksylvania and his performances here are wholly idiomatic and totally sympathetic. Naturally, Jandó can play the notes -- anyone who can play Beethoven's piano sonatas can play Bartók's Mikrokosmos -- what is truly impressive is that he can find the music in the notes and express the art in the exercises. Although the argument could be made that the best way to listen to Mikrokosmos is to play Mikrokosmos, for those looking only to listen, Jandó's two-disc set is the inexpensive way to go. Naxos' sound is deep, but it could be clearer.