The Bartók Album
Hannibal (

Bela Bartók was one of the great figures of twentieth century classical music, an undeniable genius who eschewed the domination of the Germanic and Viennese Schools and carved his own very distinctive (and Hungarian) path. His famed field recordings of Hungarian folk music took him all over eastern and central Europe, and he himself described these harsh wanderings as some of the most rewarding times of his life. One cannot listen to a Bartok piece within the context of a mixed classical program, without hearing the influence of the folk music he so cherished.

The idea of an Hungarian Folk ensemble playing the tunes that have appeared in the music of Bela Bartok is not new. There is an Hungaroton release with the Jánosi ensemble which is still in print, in which this very idea is explored. But on that release, the music of Liszt was also included, somewhat diluting the program. This latest release by Muzsikàs is entirely dedicated to music which was recorded by Bartók during his field trips, and which appears in various composed pieces.

The CD contains four original field recordings, and three composed pieces which demonstrate the use Bartòk made of the themes. The rest of the program is made up of new performances of old folk material, as played by Muzsikàs and for those who are already familiar with Bartok's work it will be of great interest to hear how these melodies exist as folk music.

Muzsikàs is joined in this outing by classical violinist Alexander Balanescu, and perhaps the most interesting aspect of this recording is the renditions of the actual Bartok pieces, played as they are with authentic fire and abandon. Oddly enough, when one listens to Bartók's music within this folk context, he is once again in a class by himself. His genius preserves the soul of Hungarian music, and yet he transforms it, broadening its harmonic palette to create dazzlingly lovely structures.

But the educational promise of the CD is not fulfilled. To do this, it should have had many more examples of how Bartók used the thematic material to his own ends. With only three composed pieces, and those quite brief, this is simply another very good Muzsikàs CD. It could have been much, much more. - Michal Shapiro

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