Pierre-Laurent Aimard & Friends Play Bartók

Mikrokosmos [excerpts, for two pianos]
Fourteen Bagatelles, Op.6 [numbers 8-14]
Piano Sonata
Three Studies, Op.18
Four Dirges, Op.9a
Out of Doors
Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion

Pierre-Laurent Aimard & Tamara Stefanovich (pianos); Colin Currie & Sam Walton (percussion)

0 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 9 June, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Part of the Wigmore Hall’s Bartók Festival, this spectacular tripartite concert may have ended a long week (temperatures rising!) but had the effect of rejuvenating the audience (or at least this reviewer) with a continuously eye- and ear-opening programme of Bartók’s piano works; this keyboard bonanza was an exhilarating gem.

Masterminded by Pierre-Laurent Aimard, the concert opened with the seven of the 193 Mikrokosmos pieces that Bartók himself arranged for two pianos. Then, with one of the pianos moved to the side, Tamara Stefanovich gave the second half of the early Fourteen Bagatelles and the solo Sonata. With her carefully arranged score – extra leafs photocopied and stuck together to cope with awkward page-turnings – she threw herself into the more fervent music and more ethereal quieter passages alike, an annoying buzzing coming off one of the middle register notes on release notwithstanding.

Aimard took over for the middle third of the concert, with non-customised score necessitating a page-turner in the first and last pieces. His musical arch moved from the fiendishly difficult studies (so difficult that Bartók had to retire them from his own repertoire!) to the better known but still crunchy Out of Doors suite. As ever with Aimard, you sense total involvement in the music, unhampered by technical difficulties.

But best of all was the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, with Aimard and Stefanovich joined by Sam Walton and Colin Currie. One might express surprise that you could actually fit this work onto the Wigmore stage, and it was a tight fit (Currie had to rearrange instruments to allow Walton and Stefanovich off at the end!). There was one problem with this instrumental proximity: the snare drum, when the snare was released, picked up vibrations from either the pianos or the other percussion, and Colin Currie had to keep lunging to turn the snare off as well as cope with his timpani part.

But the collective musical trajectory and commitment from the foursome was visible, tangible and – of course – audible. Moreover the way Walton watched Stefanovich and Currie watched Aimard to make sure entries were exact and rubato was perfectly judged and great to see. To my ears this music has never sounded so heartfelt and natural; this was quite simply the best single performance of anything I’ve heard at the Wigmore Hall.

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