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Bartok : les Concertos pour piano n° 1, 2 et 3
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BARTOK : LES CONCERTOS POUR PIANO N° 1, 2 ET 3
C'est un Bartok aussi éloigné du nationalisme musical que de la radicalité atonale, mais profondément original par sa liberté harmonique, qui s'épanouit dans ces deux concertos. Le premier (1926), caractéristique de la manière de Bartok de traiter le piano comme un instrument de percussion, présente des difficultés d'exécution dont Geza Anda triomphe avec autorité. Le troisième (1945) témoigne d'une espèce de sérénité intemporelle. --Michel Marmin
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Réalisés en septembre 1959 et octobre 1960 à Berlin, leurs enregistrements désormais historiques des trois Concertos, nonobstant la nostalgie discophilique, peuvent toujours être considérés comme une évidente référence, malgré les remarquables contributions de Kovacevich/Davis et Kocsis/Fischer (chez Philips).
Dans le Concerto n° 1, moderniste et proche de l'abstraction, le clavier de Anda est attentif aux jeux de timbres sans céder à la froide rhétorique, et la chaleur de son jeu contraste avec la force percussive de l'orchestre berlinois.
Bâtie sur la « structure en arche » chère au compositeur, ne dirait-on pas que la poésie naturaliste de l'Adagio-presto-Adagio du Second Concerto se trouve ici illuminée par une inspiration transcendante, nourrie de substrat hungarisant ?
Pour DG, Fricsay avait déjà enregistré une version cursive et analytique du Concerto n° 3 avec Monique Haas en avril 1954 ; sous sa direction, il existe aussi un superbe « live » capté avec Annie Fischer (chez Orfeo).
Ces témoignages sont à connaître au même titre que l'on doit chérir ce que nous entendons dans cet album : sans l'ombre d'un artifice, la sève magyare irrigue ces oeuvres avec une authentique spontanéité garantie par l'exigence artistique des deux musiciens hongrois.
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#1. Composed in 1926, this concerto is a muscular and rather dissonant work. The second mvt. Andante is a spooky dialogue between piano and percussion that seems to be a precursor to Bartok's chamber masterpiece: the Sonata for 2 Pianos and Percussion. This performance is one of the two finest I have heard; the other was on Bartok LP 313 (the label of Bartok's son Peter, a gifted recording engineer), with pianist Leonid Hambro and the Zimbler Sinfonietta conducted by Robert Mann (better known as the 1st violinist of the Juilliard Quartet, which left stunning recordings of the Six String Quartets). The mono sound on that disc (now available on CD) is close-up and clear as a bell, with a 2nd mvt. that is downright frightening in its primitive, wailing loneliness.
#2. Completed in 1931, this concerto strikes me as the finest of the three - it's far more contrapuntal and surely the hardest to play. In the 1st mvt., the piano takes charge from the beginning and plays almost continuously, while the strings are rather oddly silent throughout. Anda here is incredibly bold and extroverted - he obviously had technique to burn! The eerie 2nd mvt opening in the strings will sound familiar to anyone who has savored TV sci-fi of the 1960's: a very similar passage was employed by Dominic Frontiere in his music for "The Outer Limits." This mvt. is half Adagio and half Scherzo, and again the piano predominates. The Finale is an elaborate rondo which cleverly transforms the thematic/rhythmic elements heard in the 1st mvt.
Anda and Fricsay are wonderfully in sync throughout. Another stunning account of this work is the "live" 1969 concert reading by Claude Helffer, with Ernest Bour leading the Orchestre National de France on deleted INA Vogue 672006. That's a CD worth seeking out: I think its 2nd mvt. is a bit more compelling than Anda/Fricsay's. It is coupled with a really extraordinary live 1950 account of the Viola Concerto by William Primrose (for whom it was written), and the most savagely dramatic "Miraculous Mandarin" I have ever heard. And perhaps DG Westminster will get around to a CD re-issue of the c.1953 recording of Concertos 2 & 3 with Hungarian Edith Farnadi (daintier and more pointillistic than Anda), with remarkable conducting by Hermann Scherchen (his very slow introduction in the 2nd mvt. is disquietingly eerie). I have not heard the Sviatoslav Richter/Lorin Maazel account (EMI) - it is said to be superb.
#3. This is the only piano concerto that was not commissioned. The sick and impoverished Bartok wanted to give his wife Ditta a work with exclusive performance rights attached so as to insure her financial future. All but 18 bars of the concerto's orchestration was completed when Bartok was rushed to the hospital on 22 Sept. 1945 - he died there 4 days later. His protege Tibor Serly completed it (as he also did with the Viola Concerto). This is a gorgeous piece of music - it is Bartok's most romantic and meditative concerto. There is a subtle interplay of folk tune elements, and the slow mvt. Adagio Religioso seems like a humble prayer (almost Coplandesque in its simple, valedictory quality), with the usual demons almost at bay.
Anda and Fricsay give a performance that is both virile and sensitive; in many respects, it contains this set's finest moments. Fricsay constantly dmonstrates what an insightful and authoritative Bartok interpreter he was - if you haven't heard his Concerto for Orchestra or MSPC (both on DG), you are missing some terrific music making. Although only in mono, those recordings are among the finest ever, along with Reiner in the former and Mravinsky and Reiner in the latter.
For collectors, there is also a very interesting #3 on Dante CD 158, which features a c.1948 recording by Tatiana Nikolaieva with the USSR Radio under Nikolai Anosov (who, incidentally, was father of conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky). It's in pretty good sound given the source and has some fine pianism and very plangent wind playing. It is coupled with an uncut version of Tchaikovsky's 2nd Piano Concerto (my favorite reading).
To sum it up: this DG set is a superb testimonial to two great Hungarian artists who shared a love of Bartok's music (they performed the 2nd piano concerto together some 60 times in concert prior to making this recording). What a tragedy that both of them were so short-lived: Fricsay died of cancer at 48 and Anda passed away at age 54.
This performance is a high quality recording in every respect. The performance is lyrical where lyricism is called for, and full of driving rhythms that are exciting without being crass. Fricsay's Bartok generally ranks among my favorite readings, and this set of Bartok's three great concerti is among the best of his best.
Piano Concerto no.2 is my favorite. With his second concerto, Bartok wanted to make it "lighter" and more pleasant to the audience. However, he also desired to remain in the same sphere of compositional style as the first. Thus, he makes no compromises with popular taste, sacrificing nothing in the way of vision or complexity. Although technically similar in many respects, they are different in important ways. Compared to the first's impulsive, prickly development of ideas, the second asserts itself more meticulously, like Bartok's middle string quartets. The first movement is starkly arranged (winds, percussion, piano) but melodically delightful and rhythmically varied. Pianist Géza Anda's approach on the second concerto is in perfect command of the technical elements and also abstracts like the playfulness and eagerness. The deft but sweet conveyance of the second movement's critical presto is remarkable, and the return to adagio in the final section unleashes colossi of dissonant chords over rumbling percussion takes one's breath away. The final movement is best of all: deriving most of its material from the first movement, it is viciously dissonant and rhythmically aggressive. It is also a throwback to the Baroque period with its emphasis on contrapuntal technical and concise thematic development.
The first concerto also factored into this development of merging folksongs with baroque tradition. But despite Bartok's obvious commitment as an ethnomusicologist for Eastern Europe, "folk songs" for Bartok were did not only mean popular songs of the Carpathian Basin, but also other ancient musical traditions like African drum music. This is an important influence on the composition core of the first piano concerto. The rhythmical proto-idea appears at first on piano and brass (low-registers) and from here numerous thematic evolutions unfold. Long considered the most expressive of all instruments, Bartok shapes the music from the percussive qualities of the piano. The percussive aspects of the piano were often important to him. Percussion rises to a key role in this piece, as in the early part of the second movement, a tense exchange between percussions and piano. Then, an exhilarating piano ostinato in 3/8 for many bars, spliced and developed multitexturally and with melodic variation. These are powerful Bartok moments.
The third concerto is less dissonant, "brighter", and more "classical" than the other two. Yet Bartok's spritely melodies are captivating and the piano parts especially imaginative. The second movement is very powerful, with a slow and sparse texture but it develops into a complex formation of musical pinpricks and fragmentary melodies. It is less compelling than the other two, but it reflects a profound, deep atmosphere of uneasy peace.
Bartók's three phenomenal piano concertos metamorphose into magnficent and debilitatingly mind-blowing putty in the hands of Ferenc Fricsay and Géza Anda. Bartók's compatriots were probably more influential than anybody else in preserving and in some cases establishing his reputation after his death, above all in the German-speaking countries, which had been intellectually zapped after World War II. These DG recordings from 1960 and 1961 are explosive testimony to Fricsay and Anda's brilliance. Bartók's concertos pound and pulsate with orchestal thump and shimmer with pianistic glitter like you just wouldn't believe.
Mind-expanding music, coupled with a totally revelatory recording. Miss it and die!