Two of the three performances on this disc are the cornerstones of any representative Bartók collection because they feature the composer himself at the piano. In addition to being one of the preeminent modernist composers, Bartók was a virtuoso pianist, and thus he could articulate his own knotty and gnarly music. No matter how angular the rhythms and askew the structures in Mikrokosmos, Bartók makes everything sound natural. And with fiery violinist Joseph Szigeti and swinging clarinetist Benny Goodman, Bartók creates exciting ensemble performances in Contrasts. Though there are many other better sounding recordings and some more accurate performances out there, these performances are fundamental to any understanding of Bartók the composer.
As filler, Urania included what purports to be Herbert von Karajan and the Philharmonia Orchestra's previously unreleased 1949 recording of Bartók's Music for strings, percussion, and celesta. Oddly enough, it sounds exactly like Karajan and the Philharmonia's 1954 EMI recording -- a more than adequate but not quite satisfying account of the work. Comparative listening between the two demonstrates that the phrasing, timing, and even the mistakes are precisely the same in both recordings. Cynical critics might accuse the producers of dissembling; more polite listeners will chalk it up to human error.