Béla Bartók’s 44 Violin Duos


Ah, wow.

Discovered on the back of the recent fabulous Muhly/Glass album, here is an absolutely brilliant record.

Some of Béla Bartók’s violin duos last less than a minute, and here they spring at you – dances, little laments at times. Every now and again a tune will make you think of something  completely different (on Kalamajkó a kind of Haydn-stately for example, on others, old Highland tunes for the pipes)  but it seems always to have an off-kilter jig and reel feeling that makes everything sound totally unique. Playful sometimes, frenetic sometimes.

These little miniatures leap into the air, as the voices of these ancient folk tunes are snapped back and forth by two amazing musicians. It sounds at times like music best appreciated running full tilt down a hill, or spinning round and round like a mad thing. Bartók spent time collecting and recording folk song in Transylvania, and I’m reminded many times of a very special record in my collection, Maramaros: The Lost Jewish Music of Transylvania by Muzsikas.

Some of the pieces do indeed make you want to dance, while some make you feel you are really listening to a very old voice indeed. There is such urgency, it’s breathtaking. On the closing ‘Prelidium és kánon’, there is a slower, even deeper kind of mystery. I am reminded for a moment somehow of Britten’s last string quartet, before yet again, we are up, dancing, circling. These two violinists are on fire.

The amazing music  of the 44 violin duos plays away as I work, occasionally super-tuning into it, startled by some association, and before I know it, the whole record has finished.

At the moment, I just start it again.