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Boulez finds true meaning in Bartok; his array of soloists and orchestras is staggering,
This review is from: Bartók: The Piano Concertos (Audio CD)
This Bartok disc is unusual as it's no everyday event that a conductor records with three different orchestras and three different soloists, with the intent to release all the material on one disc. But what Boulez has done is doubly remarkable in that he has used only the best orchestras (Chicago, Berlin, London) and has three star virtuosos to work with (Zimerman, Andsnes, Grimaud). Boulez is a master of modern music; the only concern listeners may have is that he will be too clinical, unable to be directly emotional.
The 1st concerto is the most unmerciful of the concerti, full of grinding dissonances and highly percussive. Krystian Zimerman plays with conviction and finds a way to make the work enjoyable without smoothing out its many outbursts. Boulez leads Chicago and naturally there's no lack of might. This isn't a piece meant to be polite, and both conductor and soloist realize that full well. While Boulez is direct and to the point, I didn't sense anything clinical. Everything is crystal clear and direct. This is a dazzling performance with fully committed playing everywhere.
We find ourselves in Berlin for the 2nd Concerto along with Leif Ove Andsnes, a sensitive pianist with a technique matched by precious few. This concerto isn't as ominous as its predecessor; there are traces of jollity in all the movements. Andsnes is the perfect pianist for the concerto, tackling its enormous challenges with ease while still having time for fun. Boulez connects with him wonderfully; it's tough to tell who is the main show. The Berliners have as much power as Chicago, but they're more adventurous and individualistic. The thrill of hearing this concerto played with such vigor and enthusiasm is tremendous. Boulez lets every detail come across and the Berliners couldn't have done a better job; they're voiced impeccably. Every moment has its own unique quality, but there's always a feeling of vision. When such great musicians are giving their all and caught in marvelous modern digital sound, it's impossible to give too much praise.
The 3rd Concerto is the most light-hearted of them all. Helene Grimaud is the pianist along with the LSO. Here what catches the ear is beautiful phrasing. There is a lilting romantic quality to this performance that is ravishing. Grimaud is confident without sounding harsh. Some will think she's too graceful but I think there's value in finding love in the work. Boulez always maintains a strong sense of structure that balances out the feeling of fancy. I can see merit in a more aggressive approach, but I would certainly miss the heartfelt urgency witnessed here. Beautiful as it is, there's no sign of any weakness. Power is shown; it's just that there's always a lyric backdrop. As with the other concerti, conductor and soloist blend perfectly.
Boulez finds a way to imprint individuality into these concerti. What's so amazing is that he does so with different musicians in each case. He successfully keeps his own personality without fighting the flexibility caused by switching musicians.