Previous Bartók releases by Cédric Tiberghien for Hyperion comprise Mikrokosmos Volumes V and VI, each with carefully planned couplings. On the current issue we find exquisite programming: two major works bookend the pieces in which folk-music prevails.
The Piano Sonata is one of Bartók’s finest scores. The first movement has all the energy without unnecessary pounding, and Tiberghien exhibits a simply terrific staccato touch. The central Sostenuto e pesante is incredibly focused, each chord at the opening carefully placed, while the Finale is playful and dancing, Tiberghien striking a balance between rhythm and force, and the harmonies become almost ecstatic towards the end. As in much of this repertoire Zoltán Kocsis sits at Tiberghien’s side, but he holds his head high.
The Three Hungarian Folksongs from the Csík District set melodies found by Bartók in the then-Transylvania. The first is marked Rubato, and is perfectly judged by the pianist. One has to admire, too, Tiberghien’s sparkling top in the high melody of the final offering; evidence of a beautifully tuned piano as well as a fertile musical imagination. The brief Sonatina also uses indigenous material. György Sándor (Vox) and Andor Foldes (DG) provide stern competition, but Tiberghien is full of character, the central movement lumbering on amusingly, finding moments of real beauty in the first movement and bringing lightness and sensitivity to textures in the last.
Some of the best music comes in the Three Rondos on Slovak Folk Tunes, deserving far greater recognition. The first is dolorous and fragile to begin with, and Tiberghien knows how to differentiate the sections and moods ideally. The second Rondo has plenty of energy, holding lovely dissonant harmonies, and its emotional canvas is remarkably broad. The final Rondo is tremendously powerful and its ultra-sad central section, delicate in its use of a song that portrays a girl’s grief at the news her lover has been killed, provides spot on contrast and is beautifully done. The cut of the Etudes is immediately obvious, the harmonic experiments of the first one really quite heady, and Tiberghien’s technical mastery is never in doubt. The central number is closely allied to the Impressionists, especially the upper-range arpeggios against misty bass. The final Etude is incredibly finger-twisting, superbly brought off.
In the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, Tiberghien is joined by François-Frédéric Guy, Colin Currie and Sam Walton: the result is the best version in excellent digital sound available; indeed the recording quality is top-drawer throughout, the piano(s) perfectly caught. The Sonata’s explosions (or more accurately splashes) are markedly dramatic in the first movement, where there is terrific energy; the central Lento is perfectly shaded; and the Finale starts as a blaze of light and continues to exude brightness and joy.