Lucerne Festival – Bartók Piano Concertos 2 & 3 – Géza Anda, Clara Haskill (pianos), von Karajan – Audite

by | Feb 22, 2022 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BACH: Concerto in C Major for 2 Klaviers, BWV 1061; BARTOK: Piano Concerto No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 3 – Clara Haskil and Geza Anda, pianos (Bach)/ Swiss Festival Orchestra/ Herbert von Karjan (Bach)/ Geza Anda and Ferenc Fricsay (Bartok No. 2)/ Geza Anda and Ernest Ansermet (Bartok No. 3) – Audite 95.650 (3/11/22) 68:25 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

The Internationale Musikfestwochen Luzern, established in 1938, began with a gala concert led by Arturo Toscanini. The Lucerne Festival archive, in collaboration with Swiss Radio and Television, has made it possible for Audite to present outstanding concert recordings of artists who helped shape the course of the Festival throughout its six-decade history. Hungarian pianist Geza Anda (1921-1976), appeared regularly at the Festival between 1955-1969, but only the three documents here inscribed have survived in what serves as a tribute to his 100th birthday.  

The 1955 rendition of the Bach C Major Concerto with Karajan is virtually identical in concept and tempo to the commercial release from April 1956 from London with Alceo Galliera, conductor (EMI CDH 7 63492 2). Anda and Romanian colleague Clara Haskil (1895-1960) seem entirely self-sufficient for most of the musical means, which requires little support from the string body of the Swiss Festival Orchestra. The second movement, in particular, plays as if the work were originally conceived for two klaviers, with the string parts added later. A festive brio invests the performance, whose outer movements feature both keyboard in full chords, which the artists temper dynamically to achieve a rare sense of intimacy. The “live” quality of the recording captures audience shuffles and even the movement of the performers on their respective piano pedals!

Geza Anda and beloved collaborator Ferenc Fricsay (1914-1963) recorded all three of the piano concertos of Bela Bartok, but a live performance of the 1931 Piano Concerto No. 2 is certainly welcome. After his thorny First Concerto (1926), Bartok aimed in his new concerto for a lighter texture and spatial relations whose symmetry would follow Baroque models. The lack of strings in the first movement may well pay homage to Stravinsky’s 1924 Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments, with passing allusions to The Firebird. Besides the often colossal momentum the percussive music attains periodically, the use of counterpoint intensifies even the calmer sections. For all of its outward complexity and mélange of dynamic effects, the music of the Allegro retains a strong gravity on the key of G, major or minor as the progress suits. 

Portrait of Bela Bartok, 1927

Bartók Béla, 1927

The extended Adagio conforms to the composer’s notion of “night music, consisting of three sections, the middle a frenetic Presto. The strings make their first appearance, and Anda enters with a tympanic roll and exclamations present. The form progresses as a palindrome: A-B-C-B-A, what Bartok described as “an Adagio containing a Scherzo as its nucleus.” The contrasts in temper and dynamics proves as eerie as they are dramatic. For his volatile finale, Molto allegro Più allegro, Bartok recycles several motifs from movement one, with an introduction of heated virtuosity involving tympani and piano in minor thirds, what Bartok dubbed “the frame theme.” The blazing work in the Swiss brass reminds us of Fricsay’s persuasive way in his esteemed recording of Concerto for Orchestra with RIAS. Anda, too, achieves the muscular power we know from Allegro barbaro, fiendish here in its demands on the hands. As we approach the coda, the tempo slows, and the Swiss woodwind section surrounds the arpeggios from Anda with a gossamer veil. But all too soon, the dazzling tempest resumes, scaling up to a victorious conclusion.

For his final appearance in Lucerne, 1965, conductor Ernest Anseremt (1883-1969) collaborates with Anda in Bartok’s nostalgic Third Concerto in E Major (1945). Left incomplete but for 17 measures, the score was completed by friend Tibor Serly, with assistance in expressive marks from Louis Kentner, Eugene Ormandy, and Erwin Stein. The first movement, Allegretto, exploits a Hungarian folk tune in chromatic and modally diverse textures, the original four notes of the opening chord stretched into a pentatonic structure. The last page enjoys the magical association of flute and piano that dissolves into space.

Because Bartok, suffering from leukemia, had enjoyed a bit of remission, he expresses his gratitude in the manner of Beethoven of the late quartets – especially Op. 132 – writing for his second movement Adagio religioso in C Major. This music progresses in an expressively sweet mode, a chorale interrupted by a busy version of “Night Music,” rife with bird calls the composer had absorbed while he convalesced in North Carolina. The appearance of a chord close to Wagner’s Tristan infuses a deep yearning into blend. The relatively placid affect returns by way of the chorale, with Anda’s parlando, trills, and runs intoning aspects of a native cimbalom in the course of its figurations. 

The last movement, Allegro vivace, bears a quicksilver lyricism, even in its fugato moments. A rondo, the music also utilizes folk and Hungarian modal progressions, with the strings and the tympani’s adding a muscular effect. Anda pounds out punctuated figures that soon settle for a more romantic, hazy texture, more conciliatory until the strings, tympany, Anda, and the woodwinds re-animate the tissue to a poignant climax. Anda’s fleet arpeggios carry us forward to a series of potent chords and runs that scale to a resounding, well-applauded coda. For collectors of historic recordings, a must. 

—Gary Lemco

Album Cover for Anda and Haskil in Lucerne

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