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Kirill Gerstein offers a vigorous and bracing reading of Adès’ Piano Concerto. Premiered by Gerstein in 2018 after a gestation period of six years, the piece has been aptly described as ‘utterly contemporary yet simultaneously rich with reference to tradition.’ An audacious challenge to both pianist and listener, its originality lies in the fact that while it is ‘a proper piano concerto’ (Adès) with a clearly defined fast-slow-fast format featuring cadenzas and familiar virtuoso challenges (octaves, rapid repeated notes, glissandi, etc), such features are reworked into an entirely modern idiom.

The opening Allegramente gets off to a rhythmically disjunct start before easing into calmer waters. The overall mood is dark and disquieting, qualities confirmed in the central Andante gravemente – the expressive and elegiac kernel of the piece – which recalls not so distant memories of Bartók’s First Piano Concerto. The finale is alive with jagged distortions of traditional dance rhythms, its furious ending redolent of Prokofiev’s shock tactics at the conclusion of his First Piano Concerto. Yet, paradoxically, it is the strength and originality of Adès’ voice that strikes you at every turn. His Totentanz, composed in memory of Lutosławski, is a savage and eloquent reminder of death as the ultimate leveller. These are world premiere recordings, superb in both sound and presentation.

BRYCE MORRISON Read the full review on Agora Classica

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