Bartók / Bengtson

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Album notes by the performer:

Bela Bartók’s Out of Doors Suite shows both the composer’s close kinship to folk music and his sense of the picturesque. The label of “impressionism” ought not to be the exclusive province of the French, for what page of Debussy could be more genuinely “impressionistic” than the fourth piece of this suite, “The Night’s Music?” This masterwork of a character piece casts a magical spell with its eerie evocations of nocturnal wildlife in a village in the countryside.

This suite is also typical of Bartók’s approach to structure, for the five pieces are arranged into a symmetrical arch shape. “Musettes,” with its repetitive bagpipe drones and shimmering ornaments, is in third place, occupying the axis of symmetry. In second position, corresponding to the Night’s Music, we find the “Barcarolla”: not a graceful, Italianate gondolier song as in Chopin, but rather a disquieting, undulating piece in the uneven, constantly shifting rhythms of a stormy sea.

On the outside we find the two lively and rhythmical movements, which are energetic and high in spirit. The opening movement evokes simple music of the countryside: “With fife and drum.” The bass of the piano is employed to evoke a vivid image. The concluding piece is a boisterous, frantic “Chase” that playfully depicts animals running amok. It is a wild goose chase for the pianist, too, making formidable virtuosic demands of endurance as well as precision.

Part of the music’s “modernism” – or, rather, its primitivism? – is its concentration on non-tertian intervals. The outer movements often feature the interval of a ninth; the Barcarolla offers fourths; the Musettes, fifths clashing with tritones; and the Night’s Music, semitone clusters.

Live performance by Matthew Bengtson at the Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore, Maryland, unedited.  Sean Finn, recording engineer, remastered for digital release by Aramus Recordings (2018).

Matthew Bengtson is a Steinway Artist, performing here on Peabody’s Steinway D piano.