First there was rhythm - pulsing, driving, primal rhythm. And a new word in musical terminology: Barbaro. As with sticks on skins, so with hammers on strings. The piano as one of the percussion family, the piano among the percussion family. The first and second concertos were written to be performed that way. But the rhythm had shape and direction, myriad accents, myriad subtleties. An informed primitivism. A Baroque primitivism. Then came the folkloric inflections chipped from the music of time: the crude and misshapen suddenly finding a singing voice. Like the simple melody - perhaps a childhood recollection - that emerges from the dogged rhythm of the First Concerto's second movement. András Schiff plays it like a defining moment - the piano reinvented as a singing instrument. His "parlando" (conversational) style is very much in Bartók's own image. But it's the balance here between the honed and unhoned, the brawn and beauty, the elegance and wit of this astonishing music that make these readings special.
It was in these terms that Ferruccio Busoni greeted the publication in 1908 of the 14 Bagatelles, in which Béla Bartók conveyed the violent aesthetic impact of his discovery of authentic Hungarian peasant music. Over the next 20 years, up to the magisterial Sonata of 1926, he indefatigably refined an innovative pianistic language: pungent, dissonant, percussive, with multiple new playing techniques, that was to influence the entire 20th century. A master of every style, from Haydn to Boulez by way of Chopin and Chabrier, Alain Planès is revealed here as a Bartókian of the front rank.
It is extremely hard for any new recording to compete with the stunning 1967 Berlin account that Argerich made with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Abbado… Lang Lang certainly equals the boldness, power and communicative quality of Argerich’s account. Under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle the Berliner Philharmoniker is highly persuasive and sympathetic. Not for the first time the woodwind excel - marvellous. - Michael Cookson; www.musicweb-international.com
Here is yet another reissue of the classic recordings of Bartók’s first two piano concertos, this time with an added bonus. These 1977 performances are cool, elegant, and brilliant; Pollini’s playing is stunning, and the Chicago Symphony is on its best behavior, with an unmatched clarity that is abetted by the gorgeously clean DG recording. A highlight is the Adagio–Presto–Adagio movement of the Second Concerto; the Adagios have never been so eerily calm, the Presto so perfectly executed. The only real competition comes from Yefim Bronfman and Esa-Pekka Salonen on a Sony disc. Their performances have more sizzle and spice than these, at the cost of some of the clarity found here. But their biggest advantage is including all three concertos; it is a shame that Pollini and Abbado didn’t record the Third, which would benefit most of all from their elegance. This DG disc and the Sony are both so fine—and so different—as to be absolute musts.
Edvard Grieg will always be remembered as the composer of the highly effective Piano Concerto in A minor, and his incidental music to Ibsen's play Peer Gynt. However, it is as a miniaturist that Greig's true genius lies. Grieg was a very capable pianist, and had in fact made his early career as a concert pianist, his songs and solo piano music form the heart of his output. The early piano sonata although interesting shows clearly why the less restricting forms of the miniatures for solo piano suited his genius. The Lyric Pieces and Peasant Dances display his keen ear for traditional folk music, matched probably only by Bartok and Kodaly. The 66 works that comprise the 10 books of Lyric Pieces date from 1867 to 1901, and are extraordinary, exquisitely crafted works that can stand comparison to any of the great sonatas of his contemporaries. This 7 CD set includes the complete Lyric Pieces, the Sonata, The Holberg Suite and the lesser-known piano works of this great composer who captured the very essence of his native Norway in music.