BARTOK: The Three Piano Concertos – Krystian Zimerman, piano (No. 1)/Chicago Symphony;Leif Ove Andsnes, piano (No. 2)/Berlin Philharmonic; Helene Grimaud, piano (No. 3)/London Symphony Orchestra/ Pierre Boulez, conductor – DGG

by | Aug 15, 2005 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BARTOK: The Three Piano Concertos – Krystian Zimerman, piano
(No. 1)/Chicago Symphony Leif Ove Andsnes, piano (No. 2)/Berlin
Philharmonic Helene Grimaud, piano (No. 3)/London Symphony Orchestra
Pierre Boulez, conductor – DGG B0003885-02  76:25 (Distrib.

Showpieces for the orchestra as much as they are for the keyboard, the
three Bartok Concertos for Piano (1926-1931-1945) endure as a kind of
Rosetta Stone for the middle and late Bartok style, an amalgam of
Magyar folk song, blaring, percussive, asymmetrical rhythms, and
rarified, elastic hymnody. In spite of the first two concertos’
aggressive, modally primitive sensibility, they convey a kind of
iconoclastic classicism, with the First Concerto hovering around a
central E, whether major or minor, and the themes developed in
sonata-form.  The Second Concerto, while exploiting the Mixolydian
scale on D, still hovers around G as a tonal center. I heard Michael
Ponti in a rousing performance of this concerto, after which I bought
him a cup of coffee. The concerto’s use of thematic ritornelli give it
a baroque cast, a passing tribute to Bach, who often finds an allusion
in the midst of seeming cacophonies. The 1945 Third Concerto (in E)
appears aerial and almost diatonic in contrast to the first two
concertos, a conscious effort at textural simplication by Bartok, given
that his taste for polyphony had not diminished.  Something of
Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Winds may inform the second
movement of this resonant work.

Having three individual pianists and three respective orchestras
perform the Bartok Piano Concertos is a unique idea, although Boulez
proves a solid force in the midst of textual variety. Zimerman, more
renowned for his Chopin than for his percussive power, certainly
punches the keys with authority for Concerto No. 1. The sound with the
CSO is strictly audiophile fidelity. The piece comes off as a colossal
bravura toccata, coated like Joseph of old in many colors. Andnes, too,
keeps a firm grip on the kaleidoscopic proceedings of the Second
Concerto, the hard patina of the Chicago Symphony now softened to a
throbbing glow in the Berlin Philharmonic strings and brass. The most
intimate experience is the Third Concerto, played by Helene Grimaud, a
Gallic artist who eschews most French repertory.  Grimaud plays
this last concerto in much the same glistening way Monique Haas did a
generation ago, with suave applications of the tonal and pedal palette.
This disc from DGG complements their own release of the three concertos
some fifteen years ago, in an integral set by the late Geza Anda and
Ferenc Fricsay, my standard reference for these visceral works.

–Gary Lemco

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