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As the title implies, “On Bartók’s Piano, Volume One” is the
first in a planned multi volume series of performances given
on his recently restored Bösendorfer piano, which had been
resting “lifeless” in the study of Béla Bartók’s (1881-1945)
home, since the 1930’s.

Narrated in Hungarian, this 64-minute DVD centers around
the restoration of this special grand piano, as well as
providing footage of a recital by noted Hungarian pianist,
Zoltán Kocsis (1952 – ). The performance was given in the
Béla Bartók Memorial House, which is now a museum in
Hungary. Tamás Lendvai undertook the restoration of the
piano and during an in-depth interview, he discussed not
only the enormous amount of work required to bring the
instrument “up to snuff,” but also the peculiarities in the
manufacturing of this particular Bösendorfer piano. The work
was completed in 2006, which was the 125th anniversary
of Bartók’s birth. It is presumed that this film was made
shortly thereafter, and released during 2008.

The primary goal of this project was an attempt to recreate
the sound Bartók envisioned while composing his most
significant piano works. This film also indicated that the
Bösendorfer was not the only piano used in his home.
However, it is presumed that the Bösendorfer was Bartók’s
instrument of choice while composing. By restoring this
piano to its condition during Bartók’s use, it was therefore
felt that the sonority of this instrument at that time could be
replicated. This would allow us to have an idea of how his
compositions might have sounded, to his own ears.

It is clear that Zoltán Kocsis is not only a world-class pianist,
but also known for his recordings of the complete Bartók
piano repertoire. His scholarship regarding Bartók was
evident during his delivery of a pre-performance lecture at
the piano, given prior to his recital at the Béla Bartók
Memorial House. Kocsis discussed both the limitations of
the piano itself, as well as some of Bartók’s “Mikrokosmos
Sz. 107.” The following Kocsis recital program also included
Beethoven’s “Sonata in E Major, Op. 14, No. 1,” Franz
Liszt’s “Ave Maria R. 194, S. 545” and excerpts from Bartók’s
“For Children Sz. 42, BB 53.”

Earlier in the film, we watched Kocsis tutor his son,
Krisztián, in one of the “Mikrokosmos.” Later, at the
beginning of the recital, Krisztián performed this piece
for the audience. Incidentally, the tone of the piano wasn’t
hugely sonorous, like that of a modern concert grand. It had
an “antique” character, albeit one which seemed to suit the
varied repertoire just fine. Kocsis played beautifully, and it’ll
also be interesting to see how his son develops as a pianist.

The state of the art recorded sound is digital, with two
audio options. “On Bartok’s Piano, Volume One” is the first
installment of this series issued on the Hungaroton Classic
label. I believe that it is a “keeper” and bodes well for
future volumes, which I fully intend to view. I highly
recommend this DVD.

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