Friday, December 19, 2008

Muzsikás' "The Bartók Album:" Music Review.

This appears to be the most recent CD from the leading Táncház ("dance house") musical ensemble, who kickstarted the Hungarian revival of folk music in later decades-- much as Bartók pioneered it earlier last century. Excellent liner notes by the group narrate the classical musician's determination to expose middle classes in Europe to folk traditions that the urban audiences had forgotten even existed. Like Zoltán Kodály within Hungary at the same time, Bartók went into the field, with primitive recording equipment, to capture what enchanted him. This disc recreates what he found: snippets of found sound, variations on the original themes that Bartók would have heard as played by Muzsikás and friends, and their elaborations that as dances and violin duos would have inspired Bartók's own Romanian- and Hungarian-based classical works.

The marvelous singer Márta Sebestyén can capture the ranges of many female vocalists from a variety of regional styles. Her voice, although I prefer it on the band's own records when it's smoother, here tends towards a harsher, more staccato, rougher texture. She's reproducing the delivery of the rawer ethnic heritages. The band's often playing one or two instrumentalists rather than as a full line-up on many tracks; they are often accompanied by featured Romanian violinist Alexander Balanescu. The addition of the cimbalom and percussion from Gypsy or Rom influences colors some songs, as typical of many Hungarian albums.

For me, track 15 (see Amazon for the Magyar-English renderings of these titles) stands out. It's sweet, to the point of heartbreaking. Following this, tracks 16-19 show how Bartók may have found source material that led to his Violin Duo #44. The classical versions that the composer produced, by the way, as played on tour in recent years by Muzsikás with the Tákacs Quartet are not included on this CD. This would certainly be welcome, however, for a follow-up from a band that's been has not been heard from with "old-new" material in the West this past decade.

It's the simpler, more plangent, and rather primitive vibrancy within much of the contents here that endures. As the band concludes its note, they share their countryman's fascination with their land's musical legacy: rather than a musicologist's dissection, their tribute album returns to the same sources that refreshed the composer. They wonder: "what is it in folk music, that attracted Bartók like a magnet? It is a question that applies equally to ourselves."

(Posted yesterday to Amazon US.)

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