Notos Quartett

Hungarian Treasures: Bartók, Dohnányi, Kodály

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The works on this Sony release by Berlin's fine Notos Quartett are "treasures" in the sense of being rare works rather than pinnacles of the repertory. None is rarer than the Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 20, of Béla Bartók, written in 1898 when the composer was 17. Bartók maintained three lists of opus numbers, the first two consisting of youthful works; the quartet is so numbered on the second list. The piece has never been recorded and hasn't been performed more than twice. You wouldn't guess the composer by listening to it, but once you learn who it is you aren't surprised to learn that one of those performances involved Bartók himself. The quartet makes a fascinating pair with the Piano Quartet in F sharp minor of Ernst von Dohnányi, a Brahmsian work that's more accomplished than the Bartók piece. Yet you can hear what's to come in the Bartók, especially in the first movement. Bartók pushes against the conventional chord progressions and strains against academic propriety with a big, Beethovenian sound (including at times the Symphony No. 5 "fate" motif). It is quite possible to imagine that Bartók performed this quartet because it was a youthful work of which he was fond. The Dohnányi quartet is actually more oriented toward folk rhythms. The Kodály Intermezzo for string trio is a nice dance entr'acte, and on the whole this is a fascinating find for any lover of Eastern European music.

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