Up first is Swiss composer Dieter Ammann’s The Piano Concerto (Gran Toccata), a half-hour score completed in 2019 and given its premiere during that year’s BBC Proms season, Sakari Oramo conducting. Ammann (born 1962) has created a terrific piece, a dazzling kaleidoscopic continuum of ever-changing sound, sonority and tempo – think of a style, colour or mood and it’s present somewhere. I imagine the pages of the score are black with notation, certainly crowded with details – be they grand or tiny – a thrilling, dramatic, suspenseful, and sometimes-spectral, tour de force for the performers and the listener. One can only use the word ‘heroic’ for Andreas Haefliger’s assumption of the often-jazzy, pulsating, solo part, written for him, a torrent of notes at speed, and with a huge amount of orchestral vibrancy, which Susanna Mälkki and the Helsinki Philharmonic bring off with brilliance. There’s a rather wonderful passage, about two-thirds of the way through, that could be likened to ‘the calm after the storm’, but it’s a red herring for the tempest returns, although the work will end by being snuffed out.
I put quite a few minutes between Ammann’s absorbing assault and the darkness of Ravel’s Concerto for the Left-Hand, a bold and sensitive account from Haefliger, admirably matched by conductor and orchestra. Maybe the central section is just a little too quick to fully reveal the macabre and nightmarish aspects of the music; rather edgy though and appropriately so. Haefliger works wonders with the cadenza, searching out its potential.
The remaining Piano Concerto is Bartók #3, rhythmically alert in the outer movements (excellent timpani in the Finale), the first one full of meaningful expression although the trumpet is a little shy between 5’34” & 5’39”. The heart of the work is the soulful second movement, Adagio religioso, given with depth of feeling and very moving, the ‘night music’ episode bringing fireflies vividly to the fore.
A textural postscript: the very end of the work (as completed by Tibor Serly) has recently had a final bass drum stroke added (by Bartók’s now-late son, Peter, I believe) – it’s also found on DG’s Grimaud/Boulez version – but, even if it represents the composer’s wishes, I find it unnecessary.
This stimulating release is on BIS-2310 [SACD].