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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bartok, Kossuth, etc., Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta

Earlier works by modern masters can do a number of things besides enthrall if they are well done. They can show you the roots out of which came the mature composer, the general milieu of his/her formative years, and perhaps can give insight into his stylistic development, the origins of the personal originality of the composer.

All these things are discernable in a new disk of Bartok's early orchestral works, Kossuth, Two Portraits, Suite No. 1 (Naxos 8.573307) with JoAnn Falletta conducting the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Plus the music and performances are worthwhile in themselves.

"Kossuth, Symphonic Poem, Sz.75A" was written when the composer was just 22. It is in honor of Lajos Kossuth, who unsuccessfully led Hungary in its bid for independence from Austria in 1848. At the time Bartok was under the spell of Richard Strauss, Wagner, Liszt and the general tenor of late romanticism, 1903 style. It is nonetheless a remarkable first venture into orchestral writing, descriptive, dramatic and in no way a clone of his influences.

In 1907 Bartok was enamored with violinist Stefi Geyer, wrote his First Violin Concerto and presented it to her. She broke off relationships with him, kept the manuscript of the work nonetheless until that day she died. It remained unpublished until after her passing. Heartbroken, Bartok nonetheless proceeded to reproduce the first movement of the concerto as part of his "Two Portraits, Op. 5" in the following year, with the first movement renamed as "Ideal" and a short second portrait included, a kind of Bronx cheer dubbed by the composer as "Grotesque". Falletta and the Buffalo Orchestra give us a considered, impassioned version that features Michael Ludwig nicely in the solo violin role.

"Suite No. 1, Op. 3" was composed in 1905 and has five movements. It is a colorful and lively work, filled with the musical aura of Bartok's homeland, and a touch of the later romantic bluster then au courant in the avant garde circles of those days. It has strength and breadth, however, that show Bartok a master tone-painter even in his early career.

Lovers of the mature Bartok will appreciate these formative works for the kernels of greatness that they contain. They are works of stature surprising for a young composer of his time. And they stand on their own as worthy listens. Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic, as followers of her and the orchestra's recent recordings will not be surprised, excel in their vivid and measured, passionate readings of the three works.

It is an excellent listen, an excellent addition to your Bartok collection.

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