DIETER AMMANN (b. 1962): The Piano Concerto (Gran Toccata), MAURICE RAVEL (1875-1937): Concerto for the Left Hand, BÉLA BARTÓK (1881-1945): Piano Concerto No. 3 in E.
Catalogue Number: 10W060
Format: SACD hybrid
Description: Ammann's "Great Toccata" sounds as though it was written to elicit a rafters-raising storm of approval from the audience at the London Proms - which is exactly what it achieved when it was premiered there last year. The concerto's idiom is decidedly constructed of tonal harmony, though in a few places - notably the work's unexpected final descent into a darkly glowing crepuscular void - the composer introduces spectralist or microtonal harmonies in string textures, suddenly opening up an expanded chromatic world of dissonant harmony. Beginning with a single pulsing note (mirrored at the end), the orchestra suddenly throws the music into gear and the juggernaut is unleashed, the concerto effectively becoming a gigantic, motoric, thrill-ride for the greater part of its half-hour duration, with the soloist constantly present to strike sparks off the spinning mechanism. The frenetic motion is briefly interrupted by several episodes of heightened, hallucinatory hyper-Impressionism, though even here, rippling pulsations soon ruffle the still, calm surface, and by "cadenzas" which emulate grand romantic gestures, though here Ammann seems to enjoy hinting at his early background in jazz, and even in some passages of accompanied toccata material, displaced accents and syncopated rhythms veer in this direction. This is no mere blunderbuss spewing uncontrolled inchoate energy, though, but an intricate, gigantic machine with many moving parts, enmeshed with the utmost precision to the end of moving very fast indeed. It was clearly composed for a discriminating audience by a meticulous, painstaking composer who by his own admission works slowly, and who invariably hones his compositional components with the utmost craftsmanship. Whether there is much else going on besides the thrill of witnessing a huge mechanism hurtling forward powered by an apparently inexhaustible supply of energy, is up to the listener to determine. The variety of event and rich timbral contrasts in the landscape traversed, and the unexpected, ambiguous ending suggests that there may be, though the high velocity journey is unquestionably as much the point of the work as its destination, whatever that may be. Andreas Haefliger (piano), Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra; Susanna Mälkki.