CD review: Bartok’s 44 Duos

First published in the Guardian on 14 January, 2016

Bartok: 44 Duos
Sarah & Deborah Nemtanu (Decca)

Bartok composed these 44 violin duets in the early 1930s as a teaching tool — the music gets harder and more dissonant as the collection goes along — but his inspiration was always the folk music of Hungary, Romania, Ukraine and neighbouring countries and there’s song and dance in each tiny study. French-Romanian sisters Sarah and Deborah Nemtanu grew up playing duets but waited until their careers were up and running independently before they started recording together. Now they’re leaders of the Orchestre National de France and the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris, respectively, and this is their second duo disc in as many years. They’re both fiery players and they egg each other on in sparky, intuitive exchanges, but they’re clearly used to making big and glossy solo sounds that swamp the simpler pieces. The best moments come when the Nemtanu sisters are at their most introspective: the sombre Wedding Song (Number 13) or the strange, sinewy New Year’s Greeting (Number 21).