Bartók
Concerto for Two Pianos, Percussion and Orchestra
Violin Concerto No.1
Viola Concerto [completed Tibor Serly]
Tamara Stefanovich & Pierre-Laurent Aimard (pianos) and Nigel Thomas & Neil Percy (percussion)

Gidon Kremer (violin)

Yuri Bashmet (viola)

London Symphony Orchestra [Concerto for Two Pianos]
Berliner Philharmoniker
Pierre Boulez

Concerto for Two Pianos recorded May 2008 in Studio No.1, Abbey Road, London; remainder recorded March 2004 in Grosser Saal, Philharmonie, Berlin
CD No: DG 477 7440
Duration: 71 minutes
Reviewed: December 2008
This disc of three concertos completes Pierre Boulez’s survey of Bartók’s major orchestral works for Deutsche Grammophon. The Concerto for Two Pianos, Percussion and Orchestra is an arrangement of the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion of 1937 that the composer made for himself and his second wife, Ditta, to play to generate some money after they settled in the United States (in 1940). (The premiere actually took place in London, in 1942.)
One might fear that the original’s edges are blunted by this transcription, and indeed that can be the case. Not here, however. Boulez leads the London Symphony Orchestra in a performance wherein accents retain their vital edge and the music of the night is ever bit as creepy in its orchestrally expanded version. Tamara Stefanovich is a former pupil and now a regular duet-partner of Pierre-Laurent Aimard. They are certainly used to each other’s playing! Their reactions to each other are a delight to experience; both players exhibiting a rhythmic acuity that mirrors that of Boulez. The recording is spectacular, with a real sense of space and yet with every detail audible.
This recording of the First Violin Concerto now becomes the ideal partner to Boulez’s recording of the Second (with Gil Shaham on 459 6392). Although this is relatively early Bartók (1907), Boulez has now admitted it into his repertoire (he refuses Kossuth of four years earlier, for example). The aching lyricism of the solo lines of the Andante sostenuto first movement, so memorably relayed here by the great Gidon Kremer, are readily identifiable as Bartókian in nature; the warmth of some of the orchestration betrays the early composition date, however. Berliner Philharmoniker plays absolutely beautifully (listen to the solo oboe around the six-minute mark, or the autumnal warmth of the strings throughout the first movement). The sweetness of Kremer’s tone in the upper register in the final moments of the first movement is ravishing. The more aggressive and active second movement highlights the closeness of the soloist in the balance, but as a performance this is near to perfection. Even the folksy rhythms have something of a swing (not something normally associated with Boulez!).
Finally, the unfinished Viola Concerto (this completion is by Tibor Serly). Interesting that Boulez has accepted this work, given Serly’s considerable hand in making the work performable. Yuri Bashmet is a first-class soloist, his effortless way with phrasing in the opening Moderato enabling the work to flow easily and with a sense of never-ending wandering. The Adagio religioso reaches the most amazing stasis and calm towards its end, and the finale bounces along in an infectious fashion, with inflections that could only be Hungarian.
A vitally important disc, not least for its place in the recorded legacy of Pierre Boulez.

 

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