Tag Archives: Bela Bartok

Bartok: Piano Works


Andor Foldes (piano)

Eloquence DGG 480 7100 (4CDs)

TPT: 212’ 06”

reviewed by Neville Cohn



In the 1950s, South Africa was very far from the main highways of the international concert circuit. So, when Andor Foldes arrived to give concerts in Johannesburg and Cape Town, it was a visit of considerable consequence. His African itinerary began as far north as Kenya and then, travelling ever southwards, there were concerts as well in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) – in Bulawayo and then-Salisbury – and then the Union of South Africa (as it was then known).


Bartok CDFoldes played concertos with orchestras in Johannesburg and Cape Town – and the works he performed were mainstream – Mozart and Beethoven.  But there was another, very significant, arrow to Foldes’ bow.


He’d studied with Bartok and was a passionate advocate for his compatriot’s music, specially that written for piano.


In Cape Town, apart from his work with orchestra, Foldes met, and played for, members of the South African Society of Music Teachers (SASMT). Much of Foldes’ repertoire was by Bartok which in those days was considered ultra-modern – and its performers very daring. Those piano teachers who’d attended that meeting and listened to Foldes at the keyboard were agog; it was a startling, completely new sound- and mood-world which Foldes revealed.


Its complex rhythmic patterns – and unusual and sometimes grating dissonances –  triggered gasps of astonishment (I was told  later). The sonic and stylistic Bartokian world that Foldes revealed at that long-ago performance was so unexpected, so startling, even shocking, that it made an indelible impression on those present.


If Foldes’ intention was to carry the flag for his compatriot, it was an immensely

effective way to do so.


Within weeks of his visit, a shipment of some of Bartok’s piano scores (brought by Union Castle Line steamers which plied weekly between Cape Town and Southampton) arrived. Far and away the most popular of these works was Bartok’s Five Rumanian Dances.  To this day in South Africa, it’s very often heard in local eisteddfodau.


Foldes’ keyboard wizardry is abundantly present in an Eloquence 4-CD pack. It’s on compact discs for the first time. It is one of most significant and worthwhile re-issues of earlier recordings in the Eloquence series.


He does wonders with the material; his recordings have the stamp of the highest authority, a magnificent tribute to the composer’s genius – and one of his chief interpreter’s most significant offerings.


Foldes plays Bartok’s Out of Doors suite with an understanding of style and mood which totally engages the listener. (This was a particular favourite of the composer who frequently played it when stressed by health or financial problems. It brought him an inner peace.)


Much the same can be said of just about everything in this collection. Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs is pure delight as is a confrontingly muscular account of Allegro barbaro.

Violin Concertos by Erich Korngold and Miklos Rozsa

Matthew Trusler (violin)

Dusseldorf Symphony Orchestra

Yasuo Shinozaki (conductor)

TPT: 68’06”Trusler Cover


reviewed by Neville Cohn

Heifetz, the violinists’ violinist, had in life so glittering a reputation that his merest

association with this or that concerto would instantly make whatever work it was a focus of international attention. And so it was with the violin concertos by two composers both of whose names, incidentally, are inextricably linked to music for the motion picture industry in Hollywood.

Matthew Trusler is featured soloist in these two works – and what a splendid advocate he is for these concertos. With unfailing beauty and clarity of tone – and ushering in and tapering phrases in a consistently musicianly way – Trusler gives irrefutable evidence of his right to a position well to the forefront of living violinists.

Trusler uses a bow that formerly belonged to Heifetz – and he is worthy of it; his bowing technique is near-flawless. He is no less worthy of his superb Stradivari fiddle that dates back to 1711. In Trusler’s hands, it sings with a voice that caresses the ear.

But for all the persuasiveness of Trusler’s playing – and the concerto’s imaginative scoring – I remain unconvinced of the worth of the concerto by Rozsa. The latter is, of course, best known for his many fine scores for Hollywood movies. And it is difficult – near-irresistible, in fact – to listen to this work without thinking how suitable much of it might have been as background music for one or another classy 1940s film noir.

Intriguingly, there are moments in the concerto that sound like a graceful tribute to Bela Bartok; Rosza was, after all, also Hungarian and an unabashed admirer of his great compatriot. Throughout, Trusler is near-faultless.

Korngold’s concerto, however, is in an altogether different, much higher category and Trusler makes the most of soaring lines in the first movement. From first note to last, he brings extraordinary powers of expressiveness to his playing with notes invariably clothed in tone of the most appealing kind. Throughout, there’s pinpoint intonation.

I particularly admired the finale with its fleeting obeisance to Copland in rodeo mood to which Trusler responds with fantastic agility and accuracy.

Had the shade of Heifetz hovered over the recording session, I rather imagine he’d have given it a nod of approval, not least for Trusler’s immaculate presentation of three miniatures that Heifetz used to offer as encores. Trusler is near-faultless in the ubiquitous Jeanie with the Light brown Hair and Ponce’s Estrelita.

Recorded quality is excellent.