Over the years, Bartók’s two Violin Sonatas have enjoyed outstanding advocacy on disc, not least from Isabelle Faust and James Ehnes. This new, superbly recorded SACD release certainly matches, and in places exceeds, their white-hot intensity.
Barnabás Kelemen and Zoltán Kocsis respond with almost improvisatory spontaneity to Bartók’s rhapsodic invention, yet ensure that the structural integrity of this tough and intellectually challenging music is never compromised. The playing is probing and impassioned, employing the widest possible range of tonal colouring and articulation, from the frenzied and aggressive (especially in the final movement of the Second) to the remote and mysterious (the ominous dirge in the middle of the slow movement of the First). Familiar passages are experienced in a revelatory light, a good example being the sudden suppression of dynamics halfway through the first movement of the First Sonata, which has never sounded more eerie.
Kelemen’s performance certainly warrants consideration among the finest recordings of the Solo Sonata currently available. The technical brilliance of the playing, as reflected in the mesmeric clarity of the final movement is never in doubt. But Kelemen also brings a warmth, lyricism and nobility to the rest of the work. (Erik Levi)
Title: Bartók New Series: Sonatas for Violin and Piano Nos 1&2; Sonata for Solo Violin
Composer: Béla Bartók
Musicians: Barnabás Kelemen (violin), Zoltán Kocsis (piano)
Catalogue No.: Hungaroton, HSACD 32515