Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra / Zoltán Kocsis

Bartók: Music for Strings, Percussion & Celesta; Divertimento; Hungarian Sketches

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The 10th volume in Zoltán Kocsis' series for Hungaroton of the orchestral music of Béla Bartók presents the late masterpiece Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, followed by the virtuosic Divertimento for strings and the folk-flavored Hungarian Sketches for orchestra. These pieces are among the most popular of Bartók's output, and they are regularly programmed where many other works of early 20th century modernism have fallen by the wayside. Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta offers compelling explorations of sonorities, not least in the amalgamation of percussion, keyboards, and strings in the Allegro, or in the twittering "night music" of the Adagio, but also in the masterful use of dissonant counterpoint in the strings throughout, displaying writing of such high caliber that this work is sometimes regarded as an extension or elaboration of ideas found in Bartók's extraordinary six string quartets, the bible for modern string writing. The rather flashy Divertimento is considerably less brooding or mysterious than the Music, though it shares with it a similar nocturnal eeriness in its dramatic slow movement. The Hungarian Sketches have much of the rustic feeling of the Divertimento's outer movements, though this is an orchestration of piano pieces Bartók composed between 1908 and 1911, and as such, the flavor of the music is much less acerbic and biting than in the works of his maturity. The Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra has a fairly dry and rugged sound in the performances of the Music and the Divertimento, though the orchestral tone is sweetened quite a bit in the charming Hungarian Sketches, and Kocsis elicits a nostalgic feeling that is wholly appropriate to these pictures of a bygone era. Hungaroton's reproduction is spectacularly clear and vibrant, and the hybrid SACD captures the orchestra in all its dimensions and dynamics. This disc is highly recommended.

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