By Mary Nemet | From the January-February 2021 issue of Strings magazine
Béla Bartók: Romanian Folk Dances for viola & piano | Arranged by Kim Kashkashian | Universal Edition | €14.95
Bartók’s famous Dances were written in 1915, first penned as six short piano pieces, then orchestrated for small ensemble in 1917. Several adaptations and transcriptions followed, among which Zoltán Székely’s version for violin and piano is best known. Based on Romanian tunes from Transylvania, the composer and avid ethnographer heard them on his numerous travels played on fiddle, shepherd’s flute, or sung.
The Stick Dance opens the set, followed by Brâul (a sash dance), then Pe Loc (stomping in one spot), and a gentle dance from Bucsum. A whirling Romanian Polka and Fast Dance complete the set, with these final two played without a break.
The romanticized Hungarian-style music (supposedly stemming from Gypsy music) popularized by Brahms and Liszt was a far cry from the authentic Hungarian folk music that Bartók discovered and explored in remote locations. Together with Kodály, Bartók clarified the differences and origins, recording and classifying thousands of melodies that provided tunes, rhythms, harmonies, and ideas for their compositions.
Kim Kashkashian closely follows Székely’s violin version and the dances lend themselves well to the viola timbre. Her adroit fingerings manage the original higher positions that she chooses to retain. Universal’s printing and layout is exemplary.