Bartok tribute is a stroke of brilliance

Friday, March 28, 2003

By Jane Vranish, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Under ordinary circumstances classical music and folk music make strange bedfellows, but Wednesday night's tribute to Bela Bartok at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland was a powerhouse wedding between the Takacs Quartet and Muzsikas.

Certainly having a contemporary Hungarian folk group like Muzsikas on the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society series is a rarity, and a real treat in this instance. But using the group as a historical link to Bartok's concert music, played with virtuosic abandon by the Takacs, was a stroke of brilliance.

It made for a lengthy 2 1/2-hour concert, but anyone would be hard pressed to find any waste in the richness of this repertoire.

Muzsikas was, in reality, a quartet of its own, with violinists Mihaly Sipos and Laszlo Porteleki spraying accents across the melodies with a gripping raw power and accompanied much of the time with Peter Eri on three-stringed viola and Daniel Hamar on three-stringed double bass.

The group also came armed with its own complement of color instruments, including a long wooden flute, a lute and the gordon, a sort of rough-hewn cello that is worn like a guitar and struck with a stick. The hauntingly deep and mysterious vocalizations of Marta Sebestyen added yet another textured layer to all of this as they romped through more than a dozen tunes, including the trademark czardas, bouncing dances from Maramarosi and Marosszek and a charming bagpipe vocal imitation.

Perhaps one of the violin duos could have been eliminated and the introduction to "Rumanian Folk Dances" shortened, but with the heightened energy on stage between the groups, the audience still wanted more.

The performers even included several original recordings of Bartok's work in the villages of Hungary. They truly struck at the root of his inspiration, setting the stage for the range and vitality of his quartet music.

For its part, the Takacs used a split-screen technique on the highlight of the program, "String Quartet No. 4." They launched into the craggy opening allegro, where all the formerly abstract dissonances were now reality-based in village life. To take it a step further, Muszikas' dance piece from Moldavia served as a bridge to the second movement, filled with glissandi and flying bows beating like gnats' wings. Sitting there like a wooded glade, the middle movement simulated Sebestyen's ornamented vocalizations in Andras Fejer's cello line and emulated bird calls by first violinist Edward Dusinberre.

After a folk song using the plucky gorgon, the quartet raced through the pizzicati of the fourth movement and a more sanitized version of Bartok's thematic material at the finish. It's one thing to read about Bartok or just listen to his music, but to hear it in this format put him in a whole new light.

There was a brief nod to Bartok's compatriot, Zoltan Kodaly, when the Takacs played a lovely portion of the second movement from "String Quartet No. 2."

But all of the above pointed to what is probably Bartok's most famous work, "Rumanian Folk Dances." Although more familiar in piano or violin solo form, this transcription served as the framework for a dazzling finale. Eri took over "Pe Loc," adding a buzzing bass line under a flute melody with new and interesting ornamentation and Dusinberre illuminated the soaring violin line of "Hornpipe Dance."

"Quick Dance" brought it all to a joyous and complete conclusion, one to ponder and enjoy for a long time to come.

Jane Vranish can be reached at .