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Bartok series

Bela Bartok String Quartet No.1; For Children (selection); 3 Burlesques; Violin Sonata No.2
Bela Bartok String Quartet No.4

Andras Schiff piano
Takacs String Quartet

Gabor Takacs-Nagy violin
Zoltan Tuska violin
Sandor Papp viola
Miklos Perenyi cello

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London 5 June 2007

Have you ever been to a Bartok concert?

I don't remember one, and this programme (the first of three) proved how viable and absorbing they can be, given careful justaposition of works in different styles and for different mediums.

The audience was relatively small for artists of highest calibre - people like to go to hear what they know - but it was all listened to in unbroken silence with palpable concentration.

The first quartet is perhaps the one least often played? Heard from near the front (at the far side where reflections augment the warmth of the sound) it was riveting and very beautiful. One felt in safe hands, with experienced players steeped in the idiom, and who had played it for so long that they had nothing to prove.

Then Andras Schiff, on his preferred Bosendorfer, demonstrated that virtuosity is not just about prestidigitation and power, voicing the seemingly simple lines of a few of the children's pieces that had long occupied Bartok with an imaginative perfection from which all we amateur pianists would have learnt something. The Burlesques showed Bartok's fanciful and witty side, and they too were tossed off with a magician's sleight of hand.

The violin sonatas are amongst the composer's most radical music and I love them, maybe the 1st even more than the more compact 2nd. Here, we were left in no doubt that this was chamber music, with Gabor Takacs-Nagy sitting down so as to be in closer rapport with his partner and both artists playing from music. The only slight regret was that in the fined-down pianissimos the air conditioning noise took over from the music.

The five movement fourth quartet, with wispy character pieces either side of the central slow movement (bows put down for the pizzicatto fourth) highlighted the contrasts within Bartok's mature scheme; this is perhaps the most effective concert piece of the six. Others will be heard in the further two concerts, strongly recommended; this is one of the season's most important chamber music events.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Book tickets for the other Bartok conbcerts.

Illustration: galérie des grands musiciens - bela bartok