BARTÓK: Out of Doors. 4 Dirges. Suite, Op. 14. 10 Easy Pieces. 14 Bagatelles / Francesco Pasqualotto, pno / Urania LDV14074
This release pleases me on several different levels. First, it really does warm my heart to see yet another Italian musician who is not afraid to tackle 20th and 21st-century repertoire; there are many of them nowadays, and quite a few are finding their way in to records of late. Secondly, I was very happy that Pasqualotto chose to present each of these suites complete and not just fragmented. And thirdly, I was elated to discover that he knows how to play this music in a style similar to that of the composer himself playing two of the Easy Pieces, three of the Bagatelles and the complete Op. 14 Suite.
And yes, fidelity to the composer’s own touch and style is important if one is to accurately approximate how these works should sound, yet there are very few recordings of Bartók’s music by pianists who have clearly studied his own piano style. Peter Donohoe’s recordings of the Piano Concerti is one such, and this disc is another.
Far too many pianists, including Hungarian ones, attack Bartók’s music as if it were Stravinsky or George Antheil, with a staccato, pounding keyboard attack, but by and large this was not the way Bartók played the piano. He had a primarily soft touch, not unlike that of Alfred Cortot, used a fine legato along with a rounded, pearly sound. Now granted, the very first piece in Out of Doors, “With Drums and Pipes,” is a strongly percussive piece, but most of the others are not, and Pasqualotto approximates the composer’s fine legato and rich keyboard sound very well indeed.
This makes a difference because it illustrates that Bartók wanted his music to be played like any other, not like some heavy metal assault on the keyboard. At the same time, Bartók also played with great feeling and Pasqualotto does, too. It’s a kind of delicate balancing act that one must perform, allowing the music to sing while still imbuing it with feeling, and this is what we get, for the most part, in this recital.
And this approach pays great dividends when playing such a piece as “The Night’s Music” from Out of Doors, with its mysterious rolling chromatic figures with clashing harmonies, or the fourth of Bartók’s Dirges. But it also tells in the Suite with its rollicking Hungarian rhythms, and Pasqualotto handles all of this music, and the rest of it, exceedingly well.
This is an album that should not only be appreciated by Bartók aficionados but also studied by fellow-pianists if they want an idea of how the composer wanted his music played.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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