Bartók's Piano Concertos are among the most difficult ever written; only a piano virtuoso of amazing dexterity, along with a virtuoso orchestra, can play them. Maurizio Pollini is that pianist, and the Chicago Symphony is that orchestra. The pianist's command of the music is consistently impressive, and Claudio Abbado leads the orchestra in extremely close sympathy with the pianist. The result is a set of performances that would be ideal except for two factors. One is that this LP reissue contains only two Concertos, when all three can fit on one CD. The other is that the recording balance so undervalues the orchestra that you can't hear everything. I'd love to hear these artists rerecord the same music with better engineering. –Leslie Gerber
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.
Never-heard music from the mighty Keith Jarrett – performances recorded in the mid 80s, and featuring Jarrett working in a mix of jazz and classical styles that's pretty darn great! The first piece is Samuel Barber's "Piano Concerto Op 38", performed with the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies – but Jarrett's performance brings an edge and sense of air that recalls some of his own compositions for larger groups from the 70s, especially with Davie at the helm.
The young Kissin was able to work wonders in Prokofiev–above all the Sixth Sonata (Kissin in Tokyo - Yevgeny Kissin). Regrettably, the mature Kissin recently delivered highly disappointing live performances of the Second and Third Concertos (Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 3), indeed, regardless of the predictable rave in the British press. This 1994 recording of the First and Third Concertos is unquestionably very good, especially the youthful First, although competition is very strong–from Graffman/Szell (Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 3) and Argerich/Dutoit (Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 3 / Bartok: Piano Concerto No. 3) in this coupling, and from the complete sets by Berman/Gutierrez/Järvi, Toradze/Gergiev and Krainev/Kitaenko.