Bartok: 44 Duos for Violins & Voices – Iva Bittova & Dorothea Kellerova – PACD 96068

Bartok: 44 Duos for Violins & Voices - Iva Bittova & Dorothea Kellerova - PACD 96068 front cover
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This recording, first published more than two decades ago and not distributed internationally, features Bartók’s work for two violins performed by two violinists & singers with deep background in Eastern European folk tradition.

Forty Four Duos for Violin: Stories from a Clear Spring

There was an old couple. They had nine beautiful sons who were always hunting in the forest, the only passion of theirs. But one day they got lost in a deep dark wood and they turned into nine stags.

The father sought high and low to find them and when lo he did, he called in vain. Never again did they want to leave the forest.

…Their lips not from a glass, but only from a clear spring will drink.” Thus ends Bartók’s “Cantata Profana,” based on the text of a Rumanian kolinda, an old folk ballad about the nine magical stags.


Fanfare Magazine logo Gavin: I’m not quite sure how to write the head note: Both artists sing, and both play.

BARTÓK 44 Duos – Iva Bittová, Dorothea Kellerová, (vn & voice) – PARNASSUS 96068 (52:18)

You’ve read the head note: violins and voices. Purists need read no further. Bartók’s 44 Duos were written as etudes also intended for performance, but they are songs and dances, too, each based on one of the recordings of folk music that Bartók and Kodály made in the early 1900s. Recordings have included an arrangement for two violas; Jerry Dubins and I approved (Fanfare 38:2), Lynn René Bayley did not. Some recordings have presented the 44 Duos in Bartók’s order, which more or less goes from easy to difficult; others have mixed them to achieve greater variety from piece to piece. In the feature article in 38:2, one of the artists states: “We discovered several [duos] had been arranged as piano pieces and recorded by Bartók. We listened to these for inspiration, and found that he strayed from his own markings in the music and ‘jazzed them up’ to sound more folk-like.” All of that history bears on the present release.

Iva Bittová is a Czech composer, violinist, singer, and actor (she has starred in several Czech films); all of those talents are brought to bear for Bartók’s 44 Duos. She and her colleague Dorothea Kellerová add a new level of ‘jazzed them up’ by singing as well as playing violins. They choose their own order; they begin with No. 1 “Teasing Song” Párosító, but they play it pizzicato. In third position is No. 44 “Transylvanian Dance”; they follow the score but add a distinct, colorful, Israeli horah flavor. Half way through the dance, they sing the violin parts for a while as well as playing them. Bittová’s voice could be described as a mezzo, Kellerová’s a soprano. Sometimes they sing together, sometimes a single voice is accompanied by either one or two violins. One duo, No. 25 Magyar Nóta, is entirely vocal. The voices can be forward, dominating the violins, or distant, the slightest accompaniment. The singing is basically vocalise, but I think they slip in a word or two. The music is all here, in one form or another (instrumental and/or vocal). Scattered among the 44 Duos are three improvisations and a purely vocal epilogue; they lack Bartók’s intensity but fit in nicely. Several of the duos are played straight, with no vocal, some juiced up, others not. In these, it becomes apparent that Bittová and Kellerová are superb violinists, producing a great variety of warm, colorful tones; I know of no other recording of Bartók’s Duos in which the violin playing is so exciting (Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman are too smooth, too elegant for this folk-inspired music, as are many other duos).

These recordings were made in the Czech Republic in 1996; they were issued on a local label in 1997, but this is their first wider public exposure. The recorded sound is excellent, in the warm, reverberant acoustic of Zelená Hora, a Moravian church, and at Studio Viktorin, which I am unable to identify. Each duo receives its own track.

In much of his music, including the 44 Duos, Bartók turned folk music into classical; Bittová and Kellerová swing the pendulum half way back. This is one of those performances about which one would love to hear what the composer has to say. For Bartók, perhaps the added “folk” flavor might be somewhat ersatz, not the real thing. Whatever he might think, I am charmed … enthralled … addicted.
James H. North

Five stars: Imaginative, highly entertaining renditions of Bartók’s 44 Duos.


Tracklist:
(Selections are played in the performers’ own ordering. Titles in boldface are by the performers, not the composer.)
1. Teasing Song [No.1 Párosító] (1:07)
2. Maypole Dance [No.2 Kalamajkó] (0:38)
3. Transylvanian Dance [“Erdélyi Tánz”] (1:55)
4. Slovakian Song I [No.5 Tót Nóta] (0:49)
5. Slovakian Song II [No.8 Tót Nóta] (0:52)
6. Wallachian Song [Oláh Nóta] (0:48)
7. Hungarian Song [No.6 Magyar Nóta] (0:48)
8. Play Song [No.9 Játék] (1:00)
9. Midsummer Night Song [No.4 Szentivánéji] (0:40)
10. Hay Song [No.12 Szénagyüjtéskor] (0:53)
11. Harvest Song [No.33 Aratáskor] (1:37)
12. Wedding Song [No.13 Lakodalmas] (1:30)
13. Menuetto [No.3 Menüett] (0:46)
14. Burlesque [No.16 Burleszk] (0:30)
15. Enumerating Song [No.34 Számláló Nóta] (1:02)
16. Dance From Máramaros [No.32 Máramarosi Tánc] (0:48)
17. Improvisation I (0:37)
18. Bride’s Farewell [No.23 Mennyasszonybúcsútató] (1:06)
19. A Fairy Tale [No.19 Mese] (1:28)
20. Ruthenian Song [No.10 Rutén Nóta] (1:22)
21. Cradle Song [No.11 Gyermekrengetéskor] (1:35)
22. Ruthenian Kolomeika [No.35 Rutén Kolomejka] (0:59)
23. Bagpipes [No.36 Szól a Duda] (1:55)
24. Soldier’s Song [No.15 Katonanóta] (1:12)
25. Hungarian March I [No.17 Menetelö Nóta] (0:40)
26. Hungarian March II [No.18 Menetelö Nóta] (0:55)
27. Wallachian Dance [No.40 Oláh Tánc] (0:50)
28. A Rhythm Song [No.20 Dal] (1:23)
29. New Year’s Greeting [No.21 Újévköszöntó] (2:05)
30. Hungarian Song II [No.25 Magyar Nóta] (0:46)
31. Improvisation II (0:31)
32. Sorrow [No.28 Bánkódás] (2:18)
33. Teasing Song [ Párosíto] [No.26 “Ugyan Édes Komámasszony…”] (0:26)
34. Limping Dance [No.27 SántaTánc] (0:24)
35. Mosquito Dance [No.22 Szunyogtánc] (0:51)
36. Rumanian Whirling Dance [No.38 Forgatós] (0:44)
37. Serbian Dance [No.39 Szerb Tánc] (1:00)
38. Prelude And Canon [No.37 Preludium és Kanon] (2:53)
39. Improvisation III (0:40)
40. New Year’s Greeting II [No.29 Újévköszöntó] (0:54)
41. New Year’s Greeting III [No.30 Újévköszöntó] (0:58)
42. New Year’s Greeting IV [No.31 Újévköszöntó] (1:01)
43. Arabian Song [No.31 Arab Dal] (1:18)
44. Scherzo [No.41] (0:50)
45. Pizzicato [No.43] (0:46)
46. Comic Song [No.24 Tréfás Nóta] (0:36)
47. Pillow Dance [No.14 Párnás Tánc] (1:06)
48. Epilogue (0:24)

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