Bartók: Piano Concerto No 2; Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No 3 in C major, Op 26

Reviewed on Wed 05 Mar, 2014

Enthusiasts of the slowly-declining Romantic style in the early twentieth century should find much to love in the best-known of Prokofiev's five piano concertos. While recognisably Russian at heart (and with Rachmaninov casting a long shadow for present-day listeners), Prokofiev’s style also has a French-flavoured harmonic acerbicism that anticipates the later music of Poulenc and Milhaud. Bartók's uncompromising 1931 Concerto, in contrast, explores original territory, prefiguring the fire and ice of his later Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. Both works are terrifyingly difficult for pianists, and Lang Lang rises with apparent ease to Prokofiev's challenge, offering a rounded and enjoyable reading (although still outmatched in the Deutsche Grammophon catalogue by Argerich and Abbado). Alas, in the Bartók both soloist and conductor (particularly the latter) seem over-cautious, and the result simply lacks the inflammatory intensity required. Turn instead to Géza Anda and Ferenc Fricsay in their classic 1959 recording (reissued on DG The Originals); an astonishing partnership.
–Chris Achenbach