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The Sonata For Two Pianos And Percussion (1937) is Béla Bartók’s most exhilarating masterpiece. He always preferred his music to have a strong rhythmic profile, and by focusing on the essentially percussive piano he at last achieved his “dream” ensemble.
The fiendishly difficult writing is definitely not for the faint-hearted, with its Rachmaninov-like clusters of notes in hands, dizzying rhythmic interplay and Brahms-like structural integrity.
Such are the daunting problems of ensemble between the four performers that phenomenal powers of concentration are required, yet in the right hands this bracingly inventive score provides one of the most compelling listening experiences around.
After hearing Bartók play the Sonata, his publisher enthused: “It was then I realised the tremendous force of the man. The intensity of his music was only a reflection of the man himself.”
Chamber music was never quite the same after that.