Bartók: Piano Concertos / Aimard, Salonen, San Francisco Symphony

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Pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard joins forces with the San Francisco Symphony and Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen for a recording of Bartók’s complete piano concertos. A pianist...

Pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard joins forces with the San Francisco Symphony and Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen for a recording of Bartók’s complete piano concertos. A pianist himself; Bartók imbued his three concertos with multiple aspects of his compositional persona; ranging from complex and innovative (the First) to exuberant (the Second) and serene (the Third). The result is a fascinating slice of his musical life. This all-Bartók release marks the first Pentatone collaboration between Esa-Pekka Salonen and the San Francisco Symphony; an ensemble he has reshaped through creative performance concepts and expansive new media projects.

A renowned champion of twentieth-century music; Pierre-Laurent Aimard has released multiple acclaimed albums in his exclusive contract with Pentatone; including Messiaen’s Catalogue d’Oiseaux (2018) and Visions de l’Amen (2022); along with Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata & Eroica Variations (2021). He also joined Tamara Stefanovich in Etudes and Frames (2023); with music by Vassos Nicolaou. Salonen returns to the label for the first time since his recording of Stravinsky’s Perséphone (2018); the San Francisco Symphony previously appeared on the 2005 Pentatone release Young America.


You know just within a couple of minutes these recordings are going to be special. As Salonen and the San Francisco Symphony sweep thrillingly into the First Piano Concerto’s Allegro, Pierre-Laurent Aimard luxuriates in the space they leave him on a superbly recorded disc…‘Definitive’ is a daft word to use about an interpretation. How can we truly know? But superlative this absolutely is.

-- The Sunday Times (★★★★★)

Ultimately, then, we’ve got something special here: a fresh take on some canonic works by a conductor and soloist whose bread-and-butter is this very fare. It’s an undertaking that flatters all parties involved musically, technically, and intellectually. Best of all, it draws out the latent mellifluousness of Bartók’s writing, even when, outwardly, that’s at its most hard-edged.

-- The Arts Fuse

In the second concerto I particularly admired the middle movement, with its opening on slow strings – which were silent in the first movement – and the fast toccata-like middle section generated exactly the right kind of excitement.

The third concerto is more different from the other two than they are from each other. It is mainly serene and graceful, remarkably so when one considers that it was written in wartime, in exile and when Bartók knew he did not have long to live...Aimard, slightly to my surprise, provides beautifully elegant phrasing and articulation and shows himself as much at home in the graceful writing here as he did in the much more challenging writing in the first two concertos...The recording is impeccable.

-- MusicWeb International

[Aimard] is aided and abetted every step of the way by the San Francisco Orchestra and its new(ish) music director...Salonen approaches these works as unapologetically modernist, and he has inspired the orchestra to shed the richly upholstered colors they developed under MTT for a less weighty, more severe color palette that ensures laser-like clarity even in the densest contrapuntal passages. The middle sections of concertos 1 and 2’s slow movements are particularly telling, and listen to the wind’s precision and leanness in the first concerto’s opening movement, which gives the music a mechanical brilliance. Pentatone’s engineers ensure the bass drum has plenty of impact. When Salonen conducted these concertos for Bronfman in Los Angeles, the Sony engineering highlighted that orchestra’s cinematic sound. Here we have a quite different sound palette that embraces a greater variety of hues in a true concert hall acoustic. 

Characterful...strongly recommended.

-- The Classic Review

Product Description:

  • Release Date: September 15, 2023

  • UPC: 8717306260299

  • Catalog Number: PTC5187029

  • Label: PENTATONE

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: 20th Century

  • Composer: Béla Bartók

  • Conductor: Pierre-Laurent Aimard

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: San Francisco Symphony

  • Performer: Esa-Pekka Salonen


  1. Piano Concertos Nos. 1-3

    Composer: Béla Bartók

    Ensemble: San Francisco Symphony

    Performer: Pierre-Laurent Aimard (Piano)

    Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen