Maurizio Pollini with Claudio Abbado and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Bartók was not only a pioneering composer and a masterful pianist (he was the soloist in the 1927 and 1933 debuts of these concertos) but also an impassioned musical scholar. Journeying through his native Hungary and the Balkans with a wax cylinder phonograph, he recorded hundreds of native songs and published numerous studies on the subject before his death in 1945. The folk tunes might have become mere pastoral adornments, but Bartók was able to utilize their primitive energy and mystery, as these two intricate concertos attest. The First is madly majestic, the Second diamond-bright. Ten years ago Daniel Barenboim and Pierre Boulez recorded a more poetic version of the First. But with Abbado's assertive support and studio quality that invites a reckless twist of the volume knob, pianist Pollini, a onetime Italian prodigy now 38, creates a gleaming hi-tech wonder.