MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around   2022
 57,903 reviews
   and more ... 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

Bartok PCs 4776353
Support us financially by purchasing from

Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Piano Concerto No 1 (1926) [23:25]
Piano Concerto No 2 (1930/1931) [27:35]
Two Portraits, Op 5 (1907-1911) [12:20]
Maurizio Pollini (piano), Shlomo Mintz (violin)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Concertos), London Symphony Orchestra (Portraits)/Claudio Abbado
rec. Chicago Symphony Hall, Chicago, USA, February 1977 (Concertos), Walthamstow Town Hall, London, UK, March 1983 (Two Portraits)
Presto CD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 6353 [63:33]

In his earlier years Pollini played and recorded a good deal of twentieth century music. This included Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Schoenberg, Webern, and even Boulez and Nono. This version of the first two Bartók Piano Concertos dates from this period. Pollini has never returned to them on record, nor has he ever recorded the third concerto, a very different work from the first two. As for Abbado, he did not record much Bartók, and, as far as I know, apart from these two concertos and the Two Portraits also on this disc there is only The Miraculous Mandarin.

Bartók wrote these two concertos for himself to play, unlike the third, which he wrote a number of years later as a legacy for his wife when he knew he was dying. These first two date from the heyday of his most dissonant and challenging period, and they take no prisoners. The fiercer of the two is the first. In it, one is reminded of the composer’s remark ‘the piano is a percussion instrument’ and there is a ruthless use of martellato passages. The orchestral percussion also play an important role, and Bartók provides meticulous instructions on how to obtain the sounds he wants. The second movement offers some respite from the relentless hammering, with, in particular a flowing passage for the wind, all playing in different keys, over increasingly thick chords in the bass for the solo piano. The finale returns to the ferocity of the first movement.

The second concerto may seem superficially similar; in fact there is a different quality to it. It is just as dissonant, but this time it is more playful than angry, though playful in the way in which a tiger might be be playful. Its structure is unusual. In the first movement the strings are completely silent. Ther piano plays nearly all the time and also has a big cadenza. The second movement is in ternary form, with two slow sections enclosing a fast middle one. In the slow sections there is a dialogue between serene chords in the strings and plaintive pleadings from the piano; the listener will recall the slow movement of Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto. The middle section is quite different: it is a playful, even skittish scherzo, with a whirl of notes from piano supporting Prokofiev-like interjections from the woodwind. The finale is a rondo with a driving theme of Hungarian character with episodes of passages in rising triplets.

Pollini brings his customary virtuosity to these works, revelling in the dissonance and the energy of them. Abbado provides secure support, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra displaying their customary strengths in wind and brass playing. Instead of the third concerto we have instead Bartók’s Two Portraits. This is an early work, which was put together from two other pieces. The first movement is more or less the first movement of Bartók’s discarded First Violin Concerto, the score of which he gave to his love of the time, the violinist Stefi Geyer, but which she never played and which surfaced only after her death. The short second movement is an orchestration of the piano Bagatelle Op 6 No 14. He also gave the two movements subtitles: one ideal and one grotesque. The dreamy first portrait is followed by a brief ironic parody of it. The Two Portraits do not really make a satisfactory whole but it is an interesting piece, and worth having.

The recording has come up well and there are good notes. This is a valuable addition to the Presto reissue series. There is a good deal of competition in the concertos. Most recordings nowadays get all three onto one disc. Géza Anda’s classic versions with Ferenc Fricsay, recorded in the 1960s, in analogue stereo but remastered for the DG Originals series, still sound very good and Anda brings more light and shade to the fiercer passages, with subtler nuances, and also a sense of fun and exuberance in the second concerto. Compared to these, Pollini seems to me rather too fierce. On the other hand András Schiff, fine pianist though he is, playing with Ivan Fischer, seems to me a little too soft. The leading Bartók pianist of the last generation, Zoltán Kocsis, again with Fischer, like Anda seems to me to get the balance right. However, if you like your Bartók tough and modernistic, this will suit very well. If you want a separate recording of the third concerto to go with it, Martha Argerich has recorded it twice; she does not play the first two.

Stephen Barber

Previous review: Philip Borg-Wheeler

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all cpo reviews

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

All APR reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount