I turned on the radio one night and Bartok was playing, piano music. It took me a few seconds to recognize the piece: the Improvisations, Op. 20. The performance was scintillating: I listened on the edge of my seat. When the performance ended the DJ identified the pianist as Murray Perahia.
Next day I bought the disc from Amazon. I have a previously issued CD with the same performance of the Sonata for 2 Pianos and Percussion, with Solti on the other piano, so I wasn't surprised to hear Perahia play Bartok, nor to hear him play Bartok with fire.
But the quality of the playing on this CD is inspired. I own many recordings of Bartok piano music: performed by Bartok himself, Sandor, Kocsis, Jando, to name a few. The closest comparison I can make is that Perahia plays (almost) as well as Leonid Hambro did on his stunning and possessed performance of "Out of Doors", on the original Bartok Records recording of that work. (If you see that LP on Ebay, buy it!) And Perahia maintains this level of excellence on every piece on the disc.
I don't agree with a previous reviewer that the Sonata is the best piece on this disc. For originality, "Out of Doors" and "Improvisations" are tops. The Suite comes close on their heels. But it is important to note that Perahia has chosen his material with unerring sensitivity: these are the pieces one would want to hear him play. (If he's taking requests, Murray, play the Second Piano Concerto!)
If you are a fan of Bela Bartok, buy this disc. If you are not but want to know why this was a great and fearless composer, buy this disc. If you like your music familiar, or pleasant, or nostalgic... beware!