Bartók’s beguiling final piano concerto
Misha Donat admires the scrupulous refinement of pianist Javier Perianes
Bartók Concerto for Orchestra; Piano Concerto No. 3
Javier Perianes (piano); Munich Philharmonic/pablo Heras-casado Harmonia Mundi HMM 902262
These two works, composed during the sad years of Bartók’s self-imposed exile in America, were the last orchestral scores he completed (though even so, the Piano Concerto No. 3’s last few bars had to be deciphered from the composer’s shorthand notation by his friend and ex-pupil Tibor Serly). They show a distinct mellowing in the composer’s style – a desire to address himself to a wider audience, perhaps – though without any dilution of his distinctive creative persona. The Third Piano Concerto was intended as a legacy for Bartók’s pianist wife, Ditta Pásztory, though she could never bring herself to play it. The Concerto for Orchestra was commissioned by the conductor Serge Koussevitzky, in an attempt to boost the already terminally ill composer’s morale and finances.
These new recordings are really splendid, with sensitive and thoughtful playing from the Spanish pianist Javier Perianes, and meticulous conducting from his compatriot Pablo Heras-casado. The Concerto for Orchestra’s opening Allegro may perhaps be a bit lacking in vigour and energy, but Heras-casado’s interpretation of the work as a whole is commendably free of showmanship or vulgarity, and even the Shostakovich parody of the ‘Intermezzo interrotto’ and the big jazzy trumpet tune in the finale are done with refinement. And if the ‘Game of Couples’ second movement is a shade faster and less wryly humorous than in some other performances, Heras-casado’s tempo is fully in keeping with the composer’s ‘Allegro vivace’ marking. The recorded sound in both works is exemplary.
PERFORMANCE ★★★★★ RECORDING ★★★★★ lively repertoire is apparent as soon as he hits the keys. In Rhapsody in Blue, played in its jazz band scoring, each of his notes springs up with a bounce; rhythms are always hot and crisp. David Robertson’s St Louis forces are equally electrifying in these live recordings, taken mostly from public concerts last April (with copious amounts of applause included, on one occasion between movements).
The Concerto in F benefits especially from the care taken to highlight its inner voices and sensuous orchestral colouring. In the spirit of jazz improvisation, Gerstein takes occasional ‘liberties’, inserting a crunchy twiddle right at the start and slipping in an extra minute unhelpfully extending the adagio’s quasi-cadenza.
Among the album’s extras, the laidback jazz interpretations of Summertime (vocalist Storm Large) and Oscar Levant’s song Blame It On My Youth (with Gary Burton’s doodling vibraphone) may suit some tastes, if not mine. But we can all surely agree that the intimate, slinky sound of Robertson and Gerstein’s Rhapsody is very refreshing; that Earl Wild’s outrageous and witty Virtuoso Etudes make excellent encores; and that King Kong, seen astride the Empire State Building on the CD’S cover, looks like he’s having a wonderful time. Geoff Brown PERFORMANCE ★★★★ RECORDING ★★★★
The big jazzy trumpet tune in the finale is done with refinement
Sensitive and thoughtful: Javier Perianes plays the poetic Third Concerto