This is a feast for the admirers of the artistry of Theo Bruins. Someone
has clearly put some considerable effort into tracking down radio tapes of
Bruins in these three concertos. The road lead to three Netherlands' radio
stations. This, by the way, is Bruins in live concert with an audience and
applause at the end of each work. The occasional cough is to be heard but
The works make a predictable and logical coupling. There are excellent similar
collections by Kovacevich and Kocsis among others but those are studio
performances contrasting with the spontaneity of Bruins live.
Bruins does not seem to have made the international stage or if so only
fleetingly. More likely he chose to avoid the international stage and made
for himself a place of affection and high regard in the Netherlands.
The first concerto is an anti-romantic work. The exact opposite in demeanour
to that which you might have expected from a first concerto. It is in touch
with the jazziness of the cross-bred with the Rite of Spring. Even
the central andante is purged of romance. There is a batteringly
repetitive piano part in the finale of this most 'extra-sec' of concertos.
Contemporary cousins with affinity with the Bartók include Lord Berners'
Triumph of Neptune, Antheil's Jazz Symphony, Honegger's Piano
Concertino, Martinu's La Bagarre and Walton's Façade.
The second concerto's hectic tumbling and cartwheeling rush recalls
Shostakovich's The Bolt and Stravinsky's Concerto for piano and wind
instruments - the latter a declared influence. The nocturnal middle movement
inhabits Frank Bridge's similarly remote Phantasm for piano and orchestra
and evokes the silence of the devastated landscapes and skeletal trench horrors
of the Great War. Another reference work is the Constant Lambert piano concerto.
The finale has the wild woolliness of the Vaughan Williams Piano Concerto.
As is expected Boulez seemingly relishes the clarity of Bartók's open
The third concerto bids fair to be the most accessible of the three. A throwaway
melody spryly decorates the opening with generosity and relaxation. The second
movement has a settled Coplandian peace and helpings of birdsong (not fanciful
either - these were noted down by Bartok while staying at Ashville). A Mozartian
simplicity is the keynote. The choppy charm of the finale suggests a mid-late
Mozart piano concerto. Tibor Serly finalised last 17 bars of the Concerto
but his contribution is seemingly much less than his role in the Bartók
These works are not necessarily the most loveable and the first concerto,
as music, does seem to be rather a dry exercise. I am not a Bartók
specialist and seemed to be hearing (rather than over-hearing) these works
properly for the first time. The performances and recordings appear to be
faithful and there is less variation in sound quality than you might have
expected. I would have classed the recordings as bring fully enjoyable. A
little hiss in the background but this is subservient to the concentration
of the music-making.
This disc will be wanted by Bartókians, Bruins devotees, Boulez and
Bour specialists. More casual listeners will find much to appreciate here
not least in the cool groves of the third concerto.