Bartók: Violin Concertos Nos 1 & 2

Reviewed on Fri 15 Nov, 2013

Bartók’s early Violin Concerto vanished for years after its dedicatee, violinist Stefi Geyer, rejected his romantic advances; having threatened to destroy the manuscript, he subsequently posted it to her and it remained hidden for decades. Its unusual two-movement layout may be related to traditional Hungarian slow/fast lassú and friss form, but does also seem to be an attempt to depict different facets of Geyer’s personality, while offering a glimpse into Bartók’s own (turbulent and darkly sexual, with the opera Bluebeard’s Castle only a few years away). The first movement later became the first of the Two Portraits, and Isabelle Faust has clearly revisited this version of the music in preparing her performance. In the mature and accessible Second Concerto (written for the Hungarian virtuoso Zoltán Székely in 1937-8) she also reinstates the composer’s original ending for orchestra alone. With excellent recorded sound and balance, these are unaffected, convincing performances in which both Faust and Harding offer fresh insight into these highly contrasting works.
–Chris Achenbach