B�la Bart�k arrived in New York on 30th October, 1940 and remained in America until his death on 26th September, 1945. These final five years were not a particularly happy time for him, having left his beloved Hungary as a refugee, fleeing the impending Nazi occupation, and being immersed in a culture both foreign and not entirely palatable to him. In spite of the hardships endured during this time he wrote his Concerto for Orchestra, Sonata for solo violin and the Third Piano Concerto. In addition he left behind an unfinished Viola Concerto, which had been commissioned by the Scottish viola virtuoso, William Primrose. The Hungarian-born composer, violist and conductor, Tibor Serly, was asked by the Bart�k family to bring the work to a publishable form. This task he undertook between 1945 and 1949, resulting in the version that has been widely performed for the last half century. Since the first performance in December 1949 it has remained a controversial work with opinions ranging from its outright dismissal as a work of Bart�k, through to it being a fine, but incomplete example of his final period. Over the last twenty years the scholarly research of violists, notably Atar Arad, Csaba Erd�lyi and the present writer, has led to significant amendments to the work of Tibor Serly which, while executed in performances, have not been published owing to the restrictions of copyright. It was with considerable pleasure that the viola community welcomed the release in 1995, by Peter Bart�k, the composer's son, of the manuscript sketches in a facsimile edition, prefaced by the acclaimed Hungarian Bart�k scholar, L�szl� Somfai. In association with this release, Boosey & Hawkes published a new revision, prepared by Nelson Dellamaggiore under Peter Bart�k's supervision, with violist Paul Neubauer as editorial adviser. The question which immediately comes to mind when producing a double recording such as this is as to what the difference is between the two version. In response one must point out that many of the changes are so subtle that even veteran performers of the work may not immediately perceive them. In particular these types of changes relate to subtle differences in orchestration and note corrections in the orchestral texture. To those who already know this work well, the more obvious changes are the numerous corrected notes in the solo viola part, comprising over 180 changed pitches and well over 200 notes moved to different octaves. The connoisseur will also detect the removal of some thirty bars which were added by Tibor Serly for reasons he felt were well justified The other features, which may perhaps be viewed more in the realm of the individual performer's interpretation, are those relating to speeds of the various passages and the choices of dynamics. These differences could, of course, be present in two different performances of the same version. To the listener who is not already familiar with the work, the differences will more likely be noticed in the overall flavour of the versions.
Obviously the above-mentioned aspects all contribute to the resulting effect but the one remaining and not insignificant aspect is that of bowing and articulation. For several decades we have become accustomed to the character produced by the suggestions of Tibor Serly and William Primrose, suggestions which now are significantly challenged by violists who have studied the sketches in depth. Owing to the lack of indication from Bart�k of any articulations, this remains the one area in which each performer will continue to establish his or her own interpretation, and in which one has arguably the most scope to establish the overall character of the work. If the performer follows the markings as indicated by Tibor Serly and William Primrose or Nelson Dellamaggiore and Paul Neubauer, then it should be noted that these are the interpretations of those musicians, and not necessarily those of Bart�k. There are four very obvious differences worthy of a special mention. First, in the linking section between the end of the first movement and the beginning of the second movement, Serly's bassoon solo has been removed. Secondly, in the middle section of the second movement the woodwind flourishes, added by Serly, have also been removed. Thirdly, the link from the second movement to the Finale has been extended in the new version, based on material in the sketch unused by Serly. Finally, Serly's four-bar insertion of the full orchestra, just before the final ascending scale of the solo viola, has been removed, creating a more fluent ending to the work. While the new revision has been welcomed, it has, along with the facsimile, given the signal to violists that this work is no longer an exclusive preserve, that the full story of this very popular concerto is now available, and that the search for the definitive rendition will continue to challenge musicians well into the future.
B�la Bart�k's Two Pictures, Op. 10, Vir�gz�s (�In Full Flower�) and A fulu t�nca (�The Village Dance�) were written in Budapest in August 1910, transcribed for piano, but not performed in the orchestral version until 26th February, 1913. While in many respects Bart�k had already developed his own distinctive style, these works represent the significant influence of Debussy, whose music he had become acquainted with only three years earlier. Together with Two Portraits (1907-8) and Four Pieces (1912), the Two Pictures mark the end of his writing for full orchestra (except for stage works), until 1923-24, when he produced his Dance Suite. Of his orchestral works, the Two Pictures have one of the more extravagant requirements for players with the usual complement augmented by an extra of each wind, four trumpets and a celeste. As the titles suggest, the first movement is a slow atmospheric piece, conjuring up images perhaps of the vineyards of the French countryside and the second is a lively dance with strongly accented off-beats and a distinct folky element. In Budapest the Two Pictures was the most performed work of Bart�k during his lifetime.
Tibor Serly's association with B�la Bart�k was for him both a blessing and a curse Without doubt, his efforts to make Bart�k's music more accessible, by arranging selected works for combinations of instruments, brought him more attention than did his own compositions. For the most part his effort, were highly praised, both by Bart�k and by colleagues. It was in fact the Viola Concerto of Bart�k which brought him so much anguish. It was after all the only work of his mentor that he worked on which was incomplete, and it was through his efforts to bridge the gap and produce a completed work, that he encountered his only real criticism. This soured his attitude to musicologists and critics in general and did not enhance his own reputation as a composer. However, as his Rhapsody for Viola and Orchestra, written in the years 1946- 48, demonstrates, Serly was a composer of some stature in his own right and deserves to be remembered as such. Of particular interest with the Rhapsody is the fact that it was produced in exactly the same period that he was reconstructing Bart�k's Viola Concerto. While there is no obvious borrowing from the Viola Concerto in evidence, Serly did freely acknowledge the source of several Hungarian folk-songs from Bart�k's piano transcriptions For Children. The work consists of small and larger excerpts of these pieces, with connecting quasi-improvisatory passages and, some particularly rich, brooding sections well utilising the viola's lower strings early on. The pieces themselves are embellished with some stylish arabesques and glissandi.
J�nos Kov�cs studied conducting at the Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest under Andr�s K�rodi, graduating in 1973, when he became a conductor at the State Opera there. During the summers of 1979-81 he was musical assistant to Pierre Boulez in Bayreuth for performances of The Ring cycle and also for productions of The Flying Dutchman, Tannh�user and Parsifal. J�nos Kov�cs has been awarded the Hungarian government's prestigious Liszt Prize and in 1987 was appointed first conductor of the Hungarian State Opera. In addition to his work in the opera-house, he is regularly invited to conduct the leading Hungarian symphony orchestras in a demanding repertoire. His career has also taken him abroad to conduct major orchestras throughout Europe and as far afield as Japan. His operatic repertoire ranges from Mozart to Verdi, Wagner, Richard Strauss and Alban Berg and he has been responsible for a number of recordings with various orchestras in Hungary and abroad.
ReviewsXiao and the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra give a lively and exciting performance - The Strad