Lebrecht Weekly – Not bad music, just not very good Bartók

Hungarian Treasures (RCA/Sony), The Notos Quartet

Hungarian Treasures (RCA/Sony), The Notos Quartet

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unique selling point of this release is what appears to be the first recording of Bartók’s piano quartet in C minor, an unpublished work that the composer began in high school in 1898 and his publishers somehow forgot.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.

The pairings on the album are a piano quartet by Dohnányi and an intermezzo for string trio by Kodály, 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 György Ligeti – he referred to it as Bartók’s seventh – and the works of Weiner and Lajtha, far more treasurable than these tepid insipidities.

—Norman Lebrecht

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Norman Lebrecht is a prolific writer on music and cultural affairs. His blog, Slipped Disc, is one of the most popular sites for cultural news. He presents The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 and is a contributor to several publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Standpoint. Visit every Friday for his weekly CD review.

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