This re-issue pairs the great American pianist Murray Perahia's performances of four Bela Bartok solo piano pieces, about 10 minutes each in length, with a performance of the 1937 Sonata for two pianos and percussion, done with conductor Georg Solti and two percussionists, including the deaf Evelyn Glennie. I find the disc to be mostly well performed throughout but marred by poor recorded sound.
The Perahia performances of the four solo pieces are very well-done. A talented pianist, Bartok wrote no solo piano pieces outside of his Mikrokosmos cycle after 1927 and I think it's fair to say he turned away from this medium as he grew older. The four pieces featured here form a nice highlight of his solo work. I particularly liked the Suite (1914) and the Improvisations on Hungarian peasant songs (1920), a lesser-known work, is attractive and a must-listen for fans of Bartok, representing a sort of ad libbed condensing of folk music into Schumann-like miniatures. Perahia presents a particularly effective interpretation of the "Out of Doors" suite (1926) and the Sonata (1926) which, unlike one of the other reviewers here, I found the least interesting of the four works.
Now, on to the Sonata for two pianos. I have been reading for decades that this is one of the major twentieth-century compositions and a pinnacle of Bartok's art. In those decades, I have listened to the Sonata repeatedly and have failed to profit. I've reached an age and level of confidence so I will say now, to those advocacies of the Sonata: "No, it isn't all that." The Sonata has longeurs - the Lento never fails to utterly bore me and the long opening movement starts well but drifts off into an amorphuous note spinning that always taxes my patience. Along with the Sonata's opening, I also like the finale's melody introduced in the percussion section. But large portions of this Sonata typically leaves me bored and dispirited. Whatever technical accomplishments Bartok weaved into this Sonata - and I'm sure there are many - at the very least a major 20th-century work needs to be always interesting.
I don't think the performance led by Perahia and Solti is a particularly effective one. I compared it to an older performance by Gilbert Kalish and Lee Luvisi, who present a more structurally cohesive, engaged performance. In contrast, Perahia and Solti lack life in this recording, with stretches tending towards monotony.
The piano sound on this CD is dull and doesn't sound like a real instrument. Perahia plays excellently in the solo works but the sound and my view of the Two-Piano Sonata performance forces me to downgrade this release to 4 stars.