Ammann • Bartók • Ravel
Dieter Ammann: The Piano Conceto ‘Gran Toccata’; Ravel: Concerto for the Left Hand; Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 3 in E major
Andreas Haefliger (piano); Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Susanna Mälkki
BIS BIS-2310 (CD/SACD) 75:30 mins
Swiss composer Dieter Ammann (b1962) delivers a rollercoaster ride of incredible rhythmic energy, in The Piano Concerto ‘Gran Toccata’, a work premiered to much acclaim by Andreas Haefliger at the 2019 Proms. It’s a piece packed full of memorable musical incident, ranging from the hypnotic slow pulsing repeated notes at the opening and throbbing almost jazz-inflected chords at the close to the subterranean sounds of a mystic chorale in a rare moment of lyrical contemplation. Yet the overriding character of the music is urgent and restless with constantly shifting shards of sound passed backwards and forwards between piano and orchestra. With a work of this complexity, it’s easy to become somewhat numbed by the sheer density of ideas. Yet thanks to the totally compelling partnership between Haefliger and Susanna Mälkki, the excitement is sustained from first bar to last, and BIS’s forensically detailed recording brings a welcome clarity to the scoring.
After the mesmeric impact of Ammann’s work, it’s probably a good idea to pause before proceeding to the two other concertos. Both receive fine performances from these artists supported by nimble orchestral playing from the Helsinki Philharmonic. The Ravel is compelling, though both artists could have gone even further in communicating the unsettling emotional undercurrents that lie beneath the surface of the central section. Haefliger is a very thoughtful player bringing a variety of approaches to the different movements of the Bartók, from the coolly detached neo-classical poise of the opening and the nobility of the ensuing Adagio religioso to the more percussive energy unleashed in the exciting finale.