A confession: Although I've owned the Dezso Ranki recording of the complete Bartók 'Mikrokosmos', I never listened to the whole thing. Mikrokosmos is a collection of six books of pedagogical piano pieces, 153 in all, that progress in difficulty from Book I to Book VI. Indeed, Books V and VI contain a number of virtuoso pieces that occasionally appear on piano concert programs. But those in Books I and II, and most of them in Books III and IV, are of quite limited interested to the casual listener. Mikrokosmos began as a set of teaching pieces written for Bartók's young son Peter to use in his piano practice. As the writing of the work progressed the pieces got more and more difficult and began getting names like 'And the Bells Clash and Clang...' or 'From the Diary of a Fly' rather than the earlier 'Dotted Notes' and 'Five-Tone Scale.' Even though there have been several recordings of the whole shebang it is hard for me to understand their value for the casual listener. I can understand piano teachers wanting to have the complete works on record, but frankly beyond that rather limited audience it seems reasonable for the listener to perhaps own excerpts from the later books. Indeed, Bartók, himself a virtuoso pianist, did not record the whole set but only some of the virtuosic (and interesting) later pieces. And a number of other pianists, many of them Hungarian like Bartók, have done likewise. Nonetheless, the set has exerted enduring interest for musicologists, partly because of their occasional use of non-Central European scales and melodies and partly because of the technical manner in which Bartók constructed the pieces. Dissertations have been written on those subjects. Bartók himself was prevailed upon by Schirmer, their American publisher, to write his own explication of the pieces.
Jenö Jandó is an excellent pianist, and a Hungarian to boot. He has recorded several earlier volumes of Bartók's more familiar (and frankly more interesting) piano music, and to general acclaim. His playing is rhythmically pointed, crisply articulated and with innate understanding of the eastern European provenance of much of the source music. Given the budget price and the lifelike sound of the recorded piano, as well as the excellence of the playing, Jandó's set is, I believe, the choice of currently available sets. Still, I can give it only four stars because of the limited interest of the earlier books in the set.