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Norman Lebrecht’s Album of the Week – Hungarian Treasures

By (February 17, 2017) One Comment

Hungarian Treasures

** (2 of 5)

The unique selling point of this release is what appears to be the first recording of Bartok’s piano quartet in C minor, an unpublished work that the composer began in high school in 1898 and his publishers somehow forgot. The gushing sleeve note says nothing about where this work was found, or what state it was in. We have to judge from the performance why Bartok and his publishers considered it unworthy of inclusion in his mature output.

The reason, by my best guess, is lack of originality. The Allegro and Scherzo sound like warmed-over Brahms, while the Adagio could be decent Dvorak, if only it were by Dvorak. This is not bad music, just not very good Bartok.

The pairings on the album are a piano quartet by Dohnanyi and an intermezzo for string trio by Kodaly, neither of them traffic-stoppers. The Notos Quartet, on their debut recording, congratulate themselves in the booklet for their ‘great courage’ in recording such an ‘unusual’ set. One hopes they will go on to record Hungarian things that are truly unusual, such the unnumbered first quartet of Gyorgy Ligeti – he referred to it as Bartok’s seventh – and the works of Weiner and Lajtha, far more treasurable than these tepid insipidities.

Norman Lebrecht has written 12 books about music, the most recent being Why Mahler? He hosts the blog Slipped Disc, writes a monthly essay for Standpoint magazine and is writing two more books.