Bartók composed this significant collection of violin duos for
Erich Doflein, from whom he took advice at every stage. The music was
not necessarily intended for performance, the priority being rather
the training of violin technique among talented players. Just how talented
is the critical point, and the collection is organised into four books,
which advance in difficulty from the first to the fourth. However, they
were not composed in that order, and Bartók emphasised that his
task was not made easier if the music had to be technically simpler.
This is an interesting point that any attentive listener needs to consider.
In his preferred fashion Bartók derived his inspiration from
folk music sources and styles of various Eastern Europe countries. He did
this while achieving the utmost harmonic and rhythmic freedom. This makes
for a potent combination which brings will please the listener. Across the
complete sequence technique is explored and adapted with considerable
compositional imagination. While listening to all forty-four pieces end-on
will not suit the majority of listeners, shorter selections are richly
rewarding. A glance at the timings is revealing: forty-four duos in
forty-eight minutes. In fact there might have been time available for a
major work such as the Sonata for solo violin, to satisfy those who demand
the maximum value for their money.
Erich Doflein intended his commission to deliver technical study
allied with musical and stylistic imagination. Bartók did not
disappoint him. Doflein’s preface to the published score reads:
“This is training, but not as on the athletic field - it is rather a
journey through many lands of music, and the music of many lands.”
In the context of the nature of the music it goes without saying
that artists who record this repertoire are bound to have the technical
capacity to do it justice. That is absolutely true of Jan Talich and
Agnès Pyka, whose command of the notes and sureness of intonation are
commendable. The music does not demand any sense of shaping or larger scale
control of line, but each individual piece will bring its own rewards. That
is the greatest tribute that the artists can receive.
The music is described by particular titles, some abstract and
others illustrative, often describing particular locations. Thus
sits alongside Limping Dance
, Farewell to the
and Harvest Song
and so on and so forth.
While the musical and recording aspects are satisfying, the
accompanying documentation is disappointing. The listings of the pieces are
full and clear, but background information is non-existent. Such notes as
there are focus on the artists rather than the music.