Antal Szalai (Zalai) / József Balog

Bartok: Complete Works for Violin, Vol. 1

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The completist approach favored by the Dutch label Brilliant is perhaps at its best when applied to the early works of composers. These pieces from the first decade of Bartók's career might not be that compelling individually, and there's no real reason to include so many transcriptions (they are not Bartók's own) in a set of complete works for violin. But seeing the elements of Bartók's style come together as he encountered Eastern European folk songs and discarded their citified versions is hard to resist. The large Violin Sonata in E minor, Sz 20, is a sort of "Sonata No. 0," preceding the composer's official Sonata No. 1. Composed in 1903, it resembles by turns Brahms, Liszt, and Jenö Hubay. The Albumblatt in A major, B626, was even earlier, a trifle dedicated to Bartók's girlfriend at the time. The rest of the album consists of transcriptions, and one thing that can be said in their defense is that Bartók himself thought enough of these little folk-based pieces to reuse some of them later in his career. Consider the lovely "An Evening in the Village" (track 9), composed in 1908 as one of Ten Easy Pieces for piano and here transcribed by Tibor Fülep. Bartók later included a version of it in his Hungarian Sketches for orchestra, in 1931. Bartók in these folk-based pieces mastered by turns the concise atmospherics of his mature music and the rigorous intervallic content he derived from his investigations and fieldwork around Eastern Europe. The result is an enjoyable collection of youthful music, with violinist Antal Zalai and pianist József Balog shifting gears effectively between the late Romantic violin sonata and the brisker shorter pieces.

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