After a rather sea-sick experience trying to listen to Laurent Korcia slip and slide his way through the Korngold Violin Concerto (also on Naive), I decided to give him another chance with this enticing 2-CD Bartok set. Mercifully, his Bartok is free from unnecessary portamentos, but this recording has its own set of problems.
Disc One starts with the 2nd Concerto, which is quite good, very well played by soloist and orchestra alike. However, it is a Live recording and the acoustic sounds a bit artificial and unnatural. Balances are not quite natural either. I found the recorded sound to be quite distracting, actually.
Then things get worse in the trio, "Contrasts", where we encounter clarinetist Michel Portal playing with vibrato! Eee-gads! I thought that was long ago abandoned after enduring the inexplicable popularity of the granddaddy of queasy clarinet playing, Richard Stoltzman. But apparently Michel Portal comes from the same stock (they are close in age, 77 and 84, respectively). Or perhaps he's making a bad attempt at imitating Benny Goodman (the jazz clarinetist who commissioned the piece). In any event, in Classical music, it simply sounds ickie. For an infinitely superior recording of this piece, one need look no further than David Shifrin's wonderful 1992 reading on Delos. One is immediately rewarded with infinitely more tasteful musicianship and highly accomplished playing.
The Sonatas on disc 2 are better. The solo violin piece is competently executed but unexceptional. Best by far in the set is the Violin/Piano Sonata #1, with pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, who interjects some muscle into the proceedings and we finally hear some Bartokian bite. Naive's sound improves as the number of players is reduced.
I have experienced some very fine recordings from Naive. But sadly this isn't one of them.