Cédric Tiberghien's first CD for Hyperion of Bartok's piano music was brilliant from start to finish (reviewed in June 2016). The 47 tracks of this new one are of the same standard, barring just one: his account of Allegro barbaro is polite, neatly controlled and utterly lacking in anything remotely 'barbaric'. For the rest, his approach is admirably responsive as he explores, one by one, the enticing little abodes of Bartók's great compositional experiment. Who would dream that a piece entitled 'Major seconds broken and together'—and lasting less than two minutes—could constitute a uniquely beautiful sound world?
Bartok described his 4 Bagatelles—with their implicit nod back to Beethoven—a representing 'a new piano style… a reaction to the exuberance of Romantic piano music of the 19th century; a style stripped of all unnecessary decorative elements, deliberately using only the most restricted technical means.' Those words could apply to almost everything on this disc.
As David Cooper observes in his illuminating liner note, the first of these Bagatelles—to be played in four sharps in the right hand, and four flats in the left—was one of the earliest essays in bi-tonality by a European composer, and in Tiberghien's hands it becomes both simple-seeming and profoundly challenging. He gives the Folk Dances and the Eight Improvisations a relaxed and full-blooded sound evoking courtships and comic mock-fights through their furious or flirtatiously irregular, tempos.He's sparing with the pedal, but on occasions uses it to make simple figurations sound bewitching, most notably in Bagatelle No 12, which prefigures the 'night music' style of later works. Intimate and poetic, this is pianism which delicately suggests rather than making statements. A lovely hour and a quarter.