The disappointment I felt at not seeing Martha Argerich in Prom 5 was more than made up for last night, when András Schiff gave a stunning performance of Bartok's Third Piano Concerto. This wasn't a work I was familiar with, despite its being considered one of the more "mainstream" of Bartok's compositions. Bartok was dying of leukaemia when he wrote it, and some suggest that he wanted to compose a crowd-pleaser so that his wife, a pianist, could earn money by playing it after his death.
Be that as it may, it's a wonderful piece. The first movement, based on Hungarian folk themes, has an almost jazzy feel (in fact, it reminded me slightly of George Gershwin). Schiff's playing had a lightness and warmth that suited the music perfectly. His excellent chemistry with the Hallé was shown off especially in the second movement, where piano and orchestra echo each other in a mimicry of nighttime bird and insect calls. In the impassioned third movement he sometimes flung his hands into the air during breaks in the piano part. It seemed inevitable that he would be called back for an encore, and so he was -- the fitting Hungarian Melody by Schubert.
The concert had opened with the Hallé playing Sibelius, a composer I keep meaning to hear more of. Now I'll have to add his charming Scènes historiques to my list of recordings to pick up. This was programme music for which you didn't really need to consult a programme: La Chasse immediately conjured up a wood, Chant d'Amour a romantic meeting, and Près du Pont-Levis a humorous bustle of ships. Afterward came Sibelius's Seventh Symphony, which conductor Mark Elder took at a relaxed pace -- perhaps too relaxed. The concert ended with an old favourite, Janacek's Sinfonietta, in which the brass section did a good job of blasting us out of our seats.