Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Bartok Composer Portrait

Book by Stephen Johnson; 2 CDs various artists

Naxos 8.558200–01

How soon revolutionaries become the conservative establishment!

It seems only yesterday that Naxos revolutionised CD retailing for this market; now, the Tesco of classical music, it has a positively Reithian approach, adding its CDs to Eulenburg scores and providing a number of book + CD combinations such as this.

Like Classic FM, Naxos understands that popularisation means not dumbing down but educating up. And like Tesco, Naxos knows that there's no point being big without quality. Well, every little helps, as we might say, and there is certainly a big package here in a small box, two CDs and Stephen Johnson's illuminating CD-sized book.

Bartok is a composer whose music is better known than his life, but who remains more listened to than understood. Johnson writes very simply and accessibly, but well and informatively about the composer. Bartok, he tells us, believed in progress, but also in ineluctible human constants. Modern yes, folk yes; twelve-tone (his contemporaries of the Second Viennese School) absolutely no.

Bartok's music lends itself well to "bleeding chunkism," containing as it does many miniatures. Jeno Jando is not everyone's favourite Bartok pianist, but he is always authentic and reliable. It is useful to have extensive selections from Mikrokosmos. The violin rhapsody No 1 (complete, with Pauk and Jando) is a highlight.

There are interesting, atmospheric b/w photographs and the CD tracks are referenced in the text. Whether for teaching or personal enjoyment, heartily recommended.

Jill Crossland