BARTÓK Piano Concerto No 2 PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No 3
Luxury casting and the apt, imaginative coupling of the greatest concertos by their respective composers are the ingredients for a potential best-seller – and an early Christmas present. Does it cut the mustard? In most respects, yes. The sound picture is a happy halfway house between resonant empty concert hall and dry, characterless studio. Aurally it packs a terrific punch. The basses have a firm, clear focus and the balance between soloist and orchestra is nigh-on ideal – though I suspect some artificial spotlighting in the outer movements of both concertos.
Lang Lang gives a persuasive account of the Prokofiev. His finely observed detail (listen to how he responds to the accents in Variation 3 of the second movement), the full use of the piano’s sumptuous sonority and dynamic range and his effortless technical mastery would excite anyone’s admiration. But this suave, purring collaboration fails to make the spine tingle, especially in those frantic final pages, in the same way as Argerich, say, or indeed Lang Lang’s mentor Gary Graffman in his memorable 1966 recording with George Szell.
In Bartók’s more abrasive Second Concerto, all three movements are taken, surprisingly, at relatively slow tempi compared with Géza Anda’s legendary benchmark recording with Fricsay (from 1959) and Chandos’s more recent pretender to the title with Bavouzet and Noseda. The latter boasts a notably ferocious finale with spiky brass stabs and the BBC Phil’s timps aggressively engaged in the musical dialogue. Of course Lang Lang and Rattle are hugely impressive but, for my taste, a shade too polite and comfortable.