The disc scoops up the concerto oddballs: the viola concerto completed after his death by Tibor Serly, the first violin concerto (suppressed in its original form until 1957), and the two-piano concerto adapted from his 1937 sonata for two pianos and percussion. That piece is the CD's jewel, not least because its enlarged textures bring echoes of Boulez the composer who elaborated his own past piano works in sur Incises . . . and the "Notations" series.The more you listen, the more fascinating this reworked sonata becomes. The music is the same, but with new vistas added. In this studio recording with the London Symphony Orchestra we luxuriate in the pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich, and LSO percussionists Nigel Thomas and Neil Percy, peerless in attack and dexterity. Boulez's soloists stamp their own qualities on the other concertos, recorded four years ago with the Berlin Philharmonic. The violin concerto No. 1 . . . burns with renewed passion in Gidon Kremer's typically live-wire and intense performance. I love the pixie spirit he brings to the second movement. Yuri Bashmet, soloist in the viola concerto, is equally indispensable. Forget about the viola as the string family's shrinking violet: Bashmet's big round tone struts and swoons through a piece that might not be 100 per cent pure Bartók, but gives quite enough pleasure and intoxication of its own. Through all these pieces Boulez proves a master guide and interpreter, probing the music's intricacies without ever losing its juice. I'd like him to live for ever.
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The Times (London) / 26. September 2008
Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich clearly enjoy themselves alongside the generally superlative percussion of Neil Percy and Nigel Thomas . . . [Gidon Kremer]: sublimely lyrical and bracingly driven in the First Violin Concerto . . . the interplay with the woodwind of the Berlin Philharmonic in the second movement is delightfully cheeky, as it is with Yuri Bashmet in a masterful account of the Viola Concerto . . . it would be hard to find a better set of advocates.
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BBC Music Magazine (London) / 01. November 2008
Pierre Boulez, completing his Bartók cycle with this CD, could hardly have asked for finer soloists. Gidon Kremer sounds very much in his element in the First Violin Concerto: he is uncannily responsive to its mercurial shifts of character, his tone colour changing in chameleon fashion to match mood and style. He is wispy and wiry in the spare, fugal opening, but as the music blossoms into Straussian warmth, he plays with a creamy, ripe sweetness that could grace an old Hollywood weepy. Yet there is always clarity in the playing, a feeling for the contours of the music and where they are leading. The second movement is full of energy and dance. Kremer is eloquent in Bartók's sinuous lines, and the bow bites into the string attacking his urgent rhythms. All through the concerto there is a compelling fusion of passion and purpose. Yuri Bashmet brings a dark, full sound to the Viola Concerto. He is in no hurry, and often seems lost in private musings, in the opening and in the slow movement. His playing is often brilliant and muscular in the outer movements, and he dispatches the moto perpetuo semiquavers of the finale with panache, but through it all there is a sense of steady inevitability, with Boulez in magisterial collaboration. Both soloists are well forward in the mix, and the acoustic is resonant, but orchestral detail is always clear. A vivid account of the Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion completes the disc.
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The Strad (Harrow, UK) / 01. January 2009
. . . Bashmet's playing is the smoothest, richest of them all . . . soloist and orchestra open up for a stupendous finale, filled with folk colors, yet dynamic and explosive . . . Bartók and Boulez form a great team.
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James H. North,
Fanfare (Tenafly, NJ) / 01. July 2009
No living conductor is more at home in 20th-century repertoire than Boulez . . . These intense, authoritative recordings, featuring four top-level soloists, capture the still-startling, avant-garde modernity of these under-appreciated masterpieces.
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Denver Post / 13. December 2009
Bartóks Musik oszilliert auf dieser sechsten und letzten CD wieder in einer faszinierenden Abmischung von Klangfarben, rhythmischer Präzision, geschärfter Harmonik und -- Boulez würde es nicht so gerne hören -- subtilem Gefühl . . . Tamara Stefanovich und Pierre-Laurent Aimard spielen . . . hinreißend. Und vor allem die Kopfsätze der beiden übrigen Konzerte werden von Gidon Kremer und Yuri Bashmet in gleißend intensives, zugleich wunderbar mildes Licht gerückt. Pierre Boulez am Ende einer großen Reise zu Béla Bartók.
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Die Zeit (Hamburg) / 09. October 2008
Wie in den vorausgegangenen Einspielungen der Orchester- und Bühnenwerke bzw. der vier offiziellen Konzerte erweist sich der Dirigent auch hier als sensibler, umsichtiger Bartók-Interpret . . . Gidon Kremer gestaltet den Solopart des stark autobiografisch gefärbten Violinkonzerts Nr. 1 agogisch frei und bringt den emotionalen Kontrast zwischen den beiden Sätzen denkbar plastisch zur Geltung, während Yuri Bashmet das Bratschenkonzert . . . mit herbstlich abgetönten, gedeckten Farben versieht, ohne es an Klangfülle und Temperament mangeln zu lassen. Tamara Stefanovich, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Nigel Thomas und Neil Percy zielen dagegen vor allem auf strukturelle Klarheit; ihre Aufführung des Konzerts für zwei Klaviere, Schlagzeug und Orchester . . . zeichnet sich . . . durch hohe Transparenz und Rhythmische Präzision aus.
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Neue Zürcher Zeitung / 17. October 2008
Pierre Boulez . . . durfte jetzt seinen viel gerühmten Bartók-Zyklus so markant wie klangprächtig, so strukturdeutlich wie präzise abschließen mit der zum Konzert umgearbeiteten Sonate für zwei Klaviere, dem 1. Violinkonzert und dem Bratschenkonzert. Pierre-Laurent Aimard und Tamara Stefanovich, Gideon Kremer und Yuri Bashmet sind die denkbar besten Solistenfreunde für dieses freudvolle Bartók-Finale, das vom London Symphony wie den Berliner Philharmonikern prächtig orchestriert wird.
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Die Welt (Berlin) / 21. October 2008
. . . eine Produktion, die kaum Wünsche offenlässt. Hochkarätige, bestens präparierte Solisten, hervorragend disponierte Klangkörper, der ruhige Blick des altersweisen Dirigenten und ein erstaunlich präsentes, nur im Forte etwas eng wirkendes Klangbild machen die Einspielung zu einem bleibenden Erlebnis. Da hat dann auch das lange Warten seinen Wert.
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Fono Forum (Euskirchen) / 01. December 2008
Die Interpretation des Konzerts für zwei Klaviere, Schlagzeug und Orchester besticht durch messerscharfe Präzision und aufregende, teils barbarische, teils furiose Rhythmen. Hohes Lob dem London Symphony Orchestra, das engagiert und konturenscharf spielt. Damit findet Boulez' preisgekörnter Bartók-Zyklus seinen grandiosen Abschluss.
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Rheinischer Merkur (Bonn) / 29. January 2009
Musikalisch lässt die Produktion kaum Wünsche offen: Hochkarätige, bestens präparierte Solisten, hervorragend disponierte Klangkörper, der ruhige Blick des altersweisen Dirigenten und ein erstaunlich präsentes . . . Klangbild machen die Einspielung zu einem bleibenden Erlebnis.
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Fono Forum Piano Festival (Euskirchen) / 01. June 2010
Musikalisch lässt die Produktion kaum Wünsche offen: Hochkarätige, bestens präparierte Solisten, hervorragend disponierte Klangkörper, der ruhige Blick des altersweisen Dirigenten und ein erstaunlich präsentes . . . Klangbild machen die Einspielung zu einem bleibenden Erlebnis. Da hat dann auch das lange Warten seinen Wert.
Record Review /
Piano Festival - Fono Forum Special (Euskirchen) / 01. June 2010
Boulez and Bartók: Three Concertos
With this collection of three concertos that, for different reasons, all stand slightly apart from the creative mainstream of Bartók's development, Pierre Boulez completes his survey of the Hungarian composer's major orchestral works for Deutsche Grammophon. Throughout his career as a conductor, from its beginnings in the concerts of the Domaine Musicale in Paris in the 1950s to its growing internationalization from the 1960s onwards, Boulez has maintained Bartók as one of the central planks of his programming, always placing him alongside the other composers who forged the new language of modernism in the first decades of the 20th century.
Boulez's perspective on the relative importance of those composers now is predictably fascinating: he regards Claude Debussy as the starting point for the 20th century's innovations; after that the stream of modernism divides into two, with the expressionism and subsequent serialism of the Second Viennese School, Schoenberg and his pupils Anton Webern and Alban Berg, on one side of the divide, and, on the other, the two composers who in their different ways enriched and expanded the rhythmic vocabulary of music, Stravinsky and Bartók.
The music of all of those figures, in one way or another, has permeated Boulez's own compositions. Bartók's influence has emerged prominently, not only in his very earliest published works, such as the Notations for piano, the flute Sonatine, and the First Piano Sonata, but in recent scores such as Sur Incises of 1998, whose ferocious multiple keyboard toccatas reveal a debt to the percussive piano technique that the Hungarian had pioneered. And because Boulez the composer has always informed the repertoire of Boulez the conductor, Bartók has continued to feature prominently in his concerts and recordings, even including the later, less overtly modernist works such as the Concerto for Orchestra. Hence his interest too in this trio of concertos.
Boulez has already recorded the major orchestral milestones of Bartók's development, and says he has no interest in conducting the very earliest orchestral works, such as the nationalist symphonic poem Kossuth completed in 1903, which does not disguise its debts to Liszt and Richard Strauss and in which he finds little evidence of the radical composer who would emerge over the next two decades. But his attitude towards the First Violin Concerto, composed four years later, is much more positive. In the concerto, Boulez says, as in the First String Quartet, completed the following year, and Bartók's first ballet The Wooden Prince, which was begun in 1913, there are “weaknesses, but also no contradictions" with the composer who later came under the modernist banner.
Bartók composed the First Violin Concerto while infatuated with the violinist Stefi Geyer. He designed the work as a portrait of her, with the “Stefi theme" of rising thirds, with which the solo violin opens the concerto, dominating the first movement and the faster, more extrovert second built upon a related but more jagged descending idea. Bartók originally planned a three-movement work, but eventually settled for a less conventional two-movement fantasy. A week after he finished the concerto, however, Geyer ended their relationship and refused to take up the work composed for her. When he could find no other violinist willing to play it either, Bartók recast its first movement as one of his Two Portraits for orchestra, composed immediately afterwards, and the First Violin Concerto itself remained unperformed until after Geyer's death in 1957. She bequeathed her copy of the manuscript to the Swiss conductor and musical philanthropist Paul Sacher, who conducted the premiere the next year.
While the First Violin Concerto merely hints at the music of the mature composer, the Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion is essentially a product of the creative high noon of Bartók's career, or more accurately a by-product of one of his masterpieces. Boulez regards the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion among Bartók's supreme masterpieces, and included it, along with piano works and the six string quartets, in the programmes he devised for the Domaine Musicale. Bartók had composed the Sonata in 1937, following the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. Like that work it follows a scheme that moves from a highly wrought, chromatic style in the first of its three movements to an exuberant finale in which the tonality is far less compromised and the rhythmic energy of folk music is allowed to express itself. Separating them is one of the most atmospheric examples of Bartók's “night music", a landscape inhabited by mysterious drum rolls, trills and rustlings.
When the composer and his second wife Ditta eventually settled in the USA in the autumn of 1940 he urgently needed to generate income, and creating a repertoire for two-piano performances with Ditta was one obvious source of revenue. That prompted him to make a concerto out of the Sonata. It was first performed in London in 1942, though not by Bartók and his wife, though they did present the work's US premiere in New York a year later; it was to be the composer's last public appearance. In the orchestral version the piano and percussion parts are left more or less untouched save for some keyboard tutti writing which is transferred directly to the orchestra. Boulez regards the first movement especially as gaining “a different dimension" from the transcription, and in either form, that movement remains one of Bartok's most impressive architectural achievements.
As Boulez admits, the Viola Concerto presents problems of authenticity of a different order. When Bartók died in New York in September 1945, just eleven days after one of the other giants of modernism, Anton Webern, had been accidentally killed in Austria by an American GI, he left two works unfinished, both concertos. Though his Third Piano Concerto required only its final 17 bars to be orchestrated, the work that had been commissioned by the viola player William Primrose was far from complete. Bartók had declared that the Viola Concerto was all but finished, needing only the “purely mechanical work" of orchestration. But the completion by his friend and colleague Tibor Serly, first performed with Primrose as soloist in 1949, had to be derived from little more than a pile of sketches, which contain few indications of scoring and do not always clarify for which movement some of the existing material was intended.
Understandably the three-movement work that Serly pieced together followed the example of the Third Piano Concerto, in which Bartók had pared down and simplified his style, musically and texturally. There are, as Boulez says, few indications in the manuscript of what the composer really intended, but the work that we now have with its three movements - the first being far more substantial and intricately worked than those that follow, connected by short interludes - has a convincing Bartókian tang.
In completing his Bartók cycle for Deutsche Grammophon with this trio of concertos, Pierre Boulez has assembled an extraordinary group of soloists, and he conducts two of the world's leading orchestras, the Berliner Philharmoniker and the London Symphony Orchestra, two of whose distinguished principals, percussionist NEIL PERCY and timpanist NIGEL THOMAS, are featured in the Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion. Pianist PIERRE-LAURENT AIMARD was born in Lyon in 1957 and studied with Yvonne Loriod Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire. An exclusive DG artist since 2007, though he has recorded for the label since the early 1990s, Aimard won first prize in the Olivier Messiaen Competition in 1973, which established him as one of the composer's major interpreters and launched him on his international career. Widely acclaimed as a key figure in contemporary music, he has collaborated closely with Pierre Boulez, as well as such other composers as György Kurtág and György Ligeti (recording his complete works). He is also celebrated as a leading interpreter of the standard repertoire. Aimard's regular duet partner since 2003 and his former pupil at the Cologne Musikhochschule, the young pianist TAMARA STEFANOVICH was born in Belgrade, where she gave her first recital at seven. She now appears regularly at the major concert halls of Europe and North America. Together with Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Stefanovich performed all of Boulez's solo and piano duo works in a European tour in 2005, and the two artists also collaborated on a Bartók programme, including pieces for one and two pianos as well as Bartók's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion.
Violinist GIDON KREMER is unquestionably one of the most original and unconventional of today's great virtuosos. Not only do his concert programmes feature a wide range of contemporary music, but his interpretations of more familiar works are also marked by a search for fresh perspectives which shed new light on the “standard" repertoire. Born in Riga in 1947, Kremer studied for eight years with David Oistrakh at the Moscow Conservatory. He has recorded for Deutsche Grammophon since 1978. The Russian violist YURI BASHMET was born in Rostov-on-Don in 1953 and studied at the Moscow Conservatory, where in 1976 he became the youngest person ever to be appointed to a professorship. He is also the first viola player ever to give regular solo recitals in major concert halls, and has performed chamber music with such other leading artists as Gidon Kremer, Martha Argerich, Mischa Maisky, Natalia Gutman, the Borodin Quartet, Mstislav Rostropovich and Maxim Vengerov. In 2001, Bashmet became an exclusive artist of Deutsche Grammophon. 6/2008