Bartók: Piano Concertos

Bartók: Piano Concertos

For the French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, behind the successful performance of any of Bartók’s three piano concertos lies a musical understanding between pianist and orchestra. “There is not a solo part and an orchestra accompaniment,” he tells Apple Music Classical, “but a strong construction between all the partners.” The 20th-century Hungarian composer Béla Bartók was a formidable pianist, and composed the first two of his piano concertos as a vehicle for his own performing career. For both orchestra and pianist, then, Nos. 1 and 2 present considerable challenges, requiring dexterity, rhythmic precision, and, in the case of both second movements, an ability to shape apparently simple lines. Aimard is under no illusion about the difficulties involved. “The rhythmical dimension is very demanding, and the synchronization between solo and percussion instruments and the orchestra is very challenging. Those challenges are more than met in these remarkable performances that feature an impressive marriage of minds. The San Francisco Symphony and Esa-Pekka Salonen are thrillingly alert to each other and to Bartók’s complex demands: the quirky flourishes, sudden bursts of color and constantly changing time signatures. And Aimard rides it all with the sort of no-fuss, pristine playing we’ve come to expect from this brilliant French pianist. As with all great music, the technical elements must combine with a deeper understanding. “There must be a fine realization of subtle musical ideas,” explains Aimard. “For instance, the first movement of No. 2 features some of the most Hungarian music ever written. You need to know how to speak it so that the articulation and rhythms are really delivered in the appropriate way.” “Hungarian is structured in such a different way to all other European languages,” he continues, “and I would say that the musical discourse really requires you to know the way the language functions from the inside.” Piano Concerto No. 3 is a different beast altogether—just one part of what Aimard calls “the immense variety of a great artist, who will never fall into a system, a personal system, or a personal aesthetic.” Written as Bartók was dying from leukaemia, it’s one of the composer’s final works and was a gift for his wife Ditta Pásztory. Its heartbreaking, chorale-like “Adagio religioso” second movement and contrasting, effervescent third are played with lucidity and a clear fondness for the music. Recording these concertos has been one of Aimard’s greatest labors of love. “It’s one of the most nourishing, overwhelming, and demanding musical journeys that I’ve taken,” he says.

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