Béla Bartók himself premièred this concerto as soloist. Rhythmic energy is paramount and the work stresses the piano as a percussive instrument. It combines familiar tonal harmonies with the harsher, more dissonant chromatic harmonies he'd been exploring previously.
Every aspect of this concerto serves Bartók's unique conception of piano sonority. The driving rhythms are underlined by piano punctuations and the melodic material is kept deliberately minimal. The music is built from small fragments, not from tunes. This strategy makes the music constantly exciting - Bartók learned this technique from Stravinsky, whose music he greatly admired.
Early audiences found the brutal dissonances hard to accept, but today we can readily understand it as an expression of the tensions of our times. The barbaric qualities of this concerto were an extreme in Bartók's music, he never again adopted such raw force in his music.
Recorded by RNZ Concert, 18 October 2018 in Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington
Producer: David McCaw
Engineer: Graham Kennedy