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LEBRECHT LISTENS | Now We Know Why This Bartók Was Forgotten

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The Notos Quartet
Notos Quartett

Hungarian Treasures (RCA/Sony)

★★ (out of five)

The unique selling point of this release is what appears to be the first recording of Bartók’s piano quartet in C minor, an unpublished work that the composer began in high school in 1898 and his publishers somehow forgot.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 Bartók 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 Dvořák, if only it were by Dvořák This is not bad music, just not very good Bartók.

Hungarian Treasures — Bartók, Dohnányi, Kodály by Notos Quartett (2017)
Hungarian Treasures — Bartók, Dohnányi, Kodály by Notos Quartett (2017)

The pairings on the album are a piano quartet by Dohnanyi and an intermezzo for string trio by Kodály, neither of them traffic-stoppers. The Notos Quartett, 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 Bartók’s seventh — and the works of Weiner and Lajtha, far more treasurable than these tepid insipidities.

Hungarian Treasures (RCA/Sony) is available at iTunes.

For more weekly reviews by Norman Lebrecht, click HERE.


Norman Lebrecht

Norman Lebrecht

Norman Lebrecht is one of the most widely-read commentators on music, culture and cultural politics. He is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Standpoint, Sinfini and other publications. His blog, Slipped Disc, is among the most widely read cultural sites online, breaking exclusive stories and campaigning against human abuse and acts of injustice in the cultural industries.
Norman Lebrecht
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