If you haven't yet visited the magical space of Whitley Auditorium at Elon University, you should know that, indeed, as pianist Victoria Fischer Faw noted, it is one of the best halls you will find, anywhere, with uniquely clear and flattering acoustics. Faw presented an informative, illustrated lecture recital on the early piano works of Béla Bartók. Bartók is a frequent friend for string quartet fans, but is less frequently heard in piano recitals. Faw, a warm and friendly presence at the podium, traced the development of the composer's style from the Second Fantasy of 1903 (when Bartók was 22), a piece that was closer to the romanticism of the later 19th century, through the teaching pieces of the collection For Children (1908-09), where Bartók was already making use of the folk music he had collected (in this case the Slovakian music heard in volume 2). We heard eleven selections, in which Faw brought out the singing character of the basic material and the innovative ways in which Bartók accompanied.
Faw then focused on a particular folk setting from volume 1 of For Children (a Hungarian melody), and the various transformations it went through, including adjustments in rhythm, and a version for two violins. This section culminated in a playback of a recording by the composer himself, which revealed a rhythmic flexibility not hinted at by the notation of the composer's arrangement.
Finally, Faw introduced the set of Fourteen Bagatelles, Op. 6 (1909), and made a case for these works being more innovative and modern than more well-known works from this period by Schoenberg and others. She linked the program for the 14 miniatures to Bartók's failed love affair with Stefi Geyer, a violin prodigy seven years younger than Bartók, who would have been twenty when the bagatelles were written. Her elucidation added considerably to the communication of these characterful pieces.
Faw is a skilled and evocative artist, and both her playing and discussion certainly added much to the listener's appreciation for a major figure of twentieth-century music.
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