BARBER; BARTÓK Piano Concertos
Although many jazz pianists unquestionably play classical music well, do their performances stack up to those of world-class, full-time classical keyboard practitioners? In the case of these live archival Barber and Bartók Third Concertos with Keith Jarrett, the answer is an unequivocal yes, for the pianist’s contributions alone. Put simply, Jarrett’s fierce and authoritative command of Barber’s difficult piano part is on par with John Browning’s benchmark performance. The octave onslaughts are not just accurate and assured but they also have shape and purpose. And if one might imagine a more nuanced and yielding central ‘Canzone’, Jarrett’s headlong phrasing and strong rhythmic backbone allow Barber’s polytextural writing to emerge in firmer perspective than what most of today’s slower, spongier traversals deliver. A good example of this is the passage around the four-minute mark, where left-hand chords, long right-hand trills and elaborate filigree interact. Under Dennis Russell Davies the Saarbrücken orchestra make up in energy and tonal heft for what they lack in consistent precision.
The Bartók recording’s slightly diffuse ambience creates an equal, chamber-orientated balance between piano and orchestra that fortifies loud string tuttis while, at the same time, playing down the relatively weak solo brass. Jarrett’s meticulous attention (for the most part, anyway!) to Bartók’s phrasings and note values brings out the music’s lyrical, speech-like syntax, which all too often sounds dry and percussive in the hands of less idiomatically attuned pianists. Jarrett rewards the appreciative audience with an exquisite improvised solo encore.