MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Support us financially by purchasing this from

Dieter AMMANN (b. 1962)
Piano Concerto (Gran Toccata) (2016-19) [31:02]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Concerto for the Left Hand (1929-30) [18:48]
Béla BARTÖK (1881-1945)
Piano Concerto no.3 in E major (1945) [24:35]
Andreas Haefliger (piano)
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Susanna Mälkki
rec. Helsinki, March 2019 (Ravel), June 2019 (Bartók), November 2019 (Ammann)
BIS SACD BIS-2310 [75:30]

The Swiss composer Dieter Ammann writes of this concerto in the booklet of this SACD from BIS that this is ‘…..bright music, dedicated to people with an alert mind.’ Quite a neat piece of self-defence that, with its implication that if you don’t like his music, you probably don’t have an ‘alert mind’!

Well I hope I do have one (though one can never be sure), and I did enjoy this concerto, certainly the second time around, anyway. The first time, it was a bit of an assault on the senses; Ammann’s way of writing is complex, restless and somewhat kaleidoscopic, and it takes a while to get into. There are also lots of hints, sometimes fleeting, of other music, such as Ligeti, Reich and Stravinsky (Petrushka in particular), though I feel these - if they are indeed intentional - are teasing rather than essential to understanding of this ‘Gran Toccata’.
That title is indicative of the brilliance of the piano writing, and Andreas Haefliger does a wonderful job of meeting the huge demands of his solo part. The soloist’s interaction with the orchestra is a fascinating and important feature of the piece. Ammann comments that ‘the propulsive character of the piano writing sometimes makes it sound like some type of percussion instrument’; well, I’m sorry, but that’s because the piano certainly is a type of percussion instrument! And the other two (great) composers on this disc also capitalise on that fact.

Amongst the welter of piano fireworks and orchestral interjections are to be found some magical moments of tranquillity, where everything seems suspended – the piece ends in this way. I was very much reminded of some of James MacMillan’s work – Veni, Veni Emmanuel for example – which contrasts unashamedly virtuosic writing with moments of rapt contemplation.

Well done, BIS, for placing this very striking recent work at the beginning of the disc rather than ‘hiding’ it away after the more familiar works that follow. I say ‘familiar’; yet the Ravel Left Hand Concerto and the Bartók 3rd Piano Concerto have their challenges, both for the performer and for the listener. The first was composed for Paul Wittgenstein (brother of philosopher Ludwig), who lost his right arm in WW1, while the second was one of Bartók’s last works, written in America when he was already suffering from the leukaemia that killed him.

The excellent SACD recording means that so many details are brought out clearly, without any ‘spotlighting’, though I could have done with a little more from the contrabassoon at the start of the Ravel – how many solos does the poor instrument get? But Haefliger’s projection of the staggeringly difficult writing is hugely impressive. I’ve sometimes heard comments along the lines of ‘surely the soloist can use both hands in a recording studio when there’s no one watching?’ I can assure you that no self-respecting soloist would dream of doing that! For a start, they'd lose all credibility with conductor and orchestra; and unless you never intend to perform it live, what would be the point of all those months slaving away with one hand tied behind your back (or otherwise incapacitated)?

This is a glorious performance that reveals both the subtly subdued colours of the work and its tragic grandeur. It doesn’t displace my other favourite readings – Michel Beroff for Decca and Krystian Zimerman for DG – but will certainly take its place among them.

Much the same goes for the Bartók 3rd Concerto. Haefliger brings out the relaxed melodiousness of the first movement, the serenity and sadness of the second, and the sheer dynamism of the third, and the recording enables us to savour the many wonderful details of scoring, especially in the finale, where you can hear clearly important woodwind interjections that sometimes get lost.

Mälkki brings tremendous style to the orchestral part; Bartók is one of her specialisms, and she conducted The Wooden Prince and The Miraculous Mandarin on another fine BIS issue last year. Pianist and conductor seem to be as one throughout, making this a very special recording.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

Previous review: Robert Cummings

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing