SCHOENBERG; BARTÓK Piano Concertos
For Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto to sound effective the listener must be able to feel utterly at home in the work, at ease with its language, so to speak; for much of the time Pina Napolitano allows us to do this with what seems like little effort. Odradek’s excellent annotator Hugh Collins Rice remarks on the concerto’s combination of modernism and nostalgia, and aside from the frequent fluency of Napolitano’s playing, the excellent contribution from Latvia’s Liepāja Symphony Orchestra under Atvars Lakstīgala and the superb sound – the col legno strings and big drums come off especially well – make a telling impression. On the evidence of what we hear, pianist and orchestra are at one in the way they view the score: note, for example the delicacy of Napolitano’s playing at the start of the finale and the way the Liepāja woodwinds respond to her.
Delicacy, or something akin to it, is a quality I would have welcomed rather more of in the first movement of Bartók’s Third Concerto, which sounds darker than usual, as if the music had fallen prey to the predominantly sombre mood of the preceding orchestral pieces. Schoenberg’s largely pensive Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene, with its allusions of ‘danger, fear and catastrophe’, here starts ppp while the later episodes – again superbly recorded (try the bass drum at 4'14") – raise the alarm. Krenek’s Symphonic Elegy for string orchestra (in memory of Webern) features some extremely expressive string-playing, though it turns more argumentative at around the midway point. So Bartók follows on the heels of some pretty angst-ridden music. Again the bass drum makes an impressive showing (at 0'52" into the finale) but it’s the Adagio religioso slow movement that comes off best, especially the tortured climax at 9'14" (note the prominent tam-tam at 9'43"), with sweetly singing strings returning to intensify the mood.
Strictly speaking, given the unusual programming, comparisons are irrelevant, though harking back to the great Zoltán Kocsis under Iván Fischer returns us to the sort of crisp, darting inflections that Bartók’s Third Concerto cries out for, while viewed overall Mitsuko Uchida and Pierre Boulez provide the more urgent and compellingly rigorous account of the Schoenberg Concerto. Still, Pina Napolitano and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra do well and, as I’ve already suggested, Odradek’s sound is superb.