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BARTOK: Piano Music – 14 Bagatelles; 2 Romanian Dances; 15 Hungarian Peasant Songs; Improv. on Hungarian Peasant Songs; Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm (from Mikrokosmos) – Terry Eder, p. – MSR Classics

BARTOK: Piano Music – 14 Bagatelles, Op. 6, Sz. 38; 2 Romanian Dances, Op. 8/a, Sz. 43; 15 Hungarian Peasant Songs, Sz.71; Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs, Op. 20, Sz. 74; 6 Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm (from Mikrokosmos Vol. VI, Sz. 107) – Terry Eder, p. – MSR Classics MS 1410, 78:20 (3/28/15) [Distr. by Albany] ****:

It takes a lot of courage to release a Bartok piano album these days; perhaps it takes a specialist like Detroit native Terry Eder, who spent a lot of time in Hungary investigating Bartok’s music after studying at Oberlin and Indiana. She is a competition winner, Weill Recital Hall veteran (Carnegie Hall), Alice Tully Hall performer, college teacher, lawyer (!) and private teacher. I can’t think of any other artist these days in the mainstream who would think of giving us nearly eighty minutes of Bartok on one disc.

It’s the same thing with recitals these days; you never hear the composer except on college piano programs and children’s recitals. The latter is not surprising, as much of what Bartok wrote was pedagogical in nature. But public recitals by big-name pianists are all but devoid of the composer’s music with rare exceptions. This is a shame, for piano music occupies a large portion of the composer’s output, and a very important share at that. Even scanning the 200+ discs available of the piano music reveals only about ten percent of them as totally dedicated to the composer’s music–the others are all compilations with other composers. So this disc, recorded at the Purchase College Performing Arts Center Recital Hall (SUNY) in ingratiating sound, is most welcome.

Eder is a perceptive and enlightening pianist, putting the knowledge found in the erudite notes into sterling practice in the music. As a theme she has chosen works with folk music as the underlying foundational structure. It’s a good choice; besides Bartok’s well-known and obvious connection with the genre, the music he created over a period of twenty years demonstrates a ever-increasing ability to manipulate the folk material in inventive ways. The beautiful and gripping melodic wonders of the 14 Bagatelles do indeed have an intensely intimate connection with the later 6 Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm, but what he accomplishes in this last piece has transformed itself into something pianistically cosmic compared to the simpler presentation. Each piece along the journey seems to demonstrate another unique and innovative facet of the composer’s art as Bartok mines the endless variants on how to explore the simplest material to create infinite complexities.

One of the things I cannot stand about so many Bartok performances is the pianist feeling the need to pound and pound and pound in the most percussive manner, as if Bartok needs such a thing. Much of his music has tendencies to this sort of dramatic emphasis anyway, but much more of it is affected by the sharp and penetrating rhythms and doesn’t respond well to this kind of artificial manipulation. Eder plays up the lyricism—yes you heard that right, and Bartok is an extremely lyrical composer. She avoids excess affect and strategizes over phrase and line, and not simply percussive events. This puts Bartok in a more favorable light, allowing his true melodiousness to shine, and his rhythms to dazzle us without the help of a pianistic pulverizer.

Gracious playing here, no question, and Eder should be congratulated on an excellent disc.

—Steven Ritter

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