Martha Argerich: Live Broadcasts, Vol. 5 – Works of MOZART, BACH, SCHUMANN & CHOPIN – Doremi

The Argerich legend continues in potent and sometimes manic performances from 1966. 

Martha Argerich: Live Broadcasts, Vol. 5 – MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 20 in d minor, K. 466; BACH: Toccata in c minor, BWV 911; SCHUMANN: Fantasy in C Major, Op. 17; CHOPIN: 3 Mazurkas, Op. 59 – Martha Argerich, p./ Sym. Orch. of the North German Radio/ Reinhard Peters – Doremi DHR-8048, 78:27 (11/18/16)   [www.doremi.com] ****:

The Doremi label continues to release previously unpublished sound documents from the volcanic performance career of Martha Argerich: here we have two 1966 concerts, from Hamburg and Milan, respectively. These interpretations testify to the then-twenty-five-year-old Argentinian’s fiery approach to her repertory, although the Schumann no less reveals the dangers of a temperament’s having become manic. The Mozart concerto (16 June 1966) displays Argerich at her best: she has a true sense of the Mozart style, attested to here and also in her collaboration with Eugen Jochum in the Concerto No. 18 in B-flat Major, K. 456 from Bavaria. Her fluidity and grace bespeak careful coaching from both Friedrich Gulda and Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, “classicists” in their own right.

I did not know conductor Reinhard Peters (1926-2008), who had a significant career in operatic performance, quite fitting in this work which alludes in emotional tenor to Don Giovanni. Peters manages the first movement sturm und drang aspects of this often demonic concerto with the resonance and explosive gusto that often contrast with the ingenuous simplicity of the keyboard line that consistently evades or defies the orchestral tissue.  When the musical momentum increases, the sheer power of Argerich’s upward runs alone warrants a ticket price. The phrases and period landing remain clean, the articulation executed without sentimental distortion. The dialogue between oboe and bassoon increases the richness of the instrumental colloquy. If ‘romantic’ passion seems to have eluded this movement, the Argerich cadenza should compensate. The overlapping trills and suspended harmonies achieve a tension that conductor Peters releases with razor sharp accuracy.

The B-flat Major Romanza proceeds with a noble clarity and inner serenity, at least until the intense middle section, where Mozart’s passions and sense of mortality flare up. The last movement, like the first, assumes a mood of personal, spiritual agitation, and we recall the Beethoven supplied the cadenzas for this work that Mozart performed but allotted only his improvisation he left unwritten. The chromatic fever of the movement has a matched pair of participants, with Peters’ tremolos and stretti sounding the ‘bat out of Hell’ imagery. The turn of screw in this rondo-sonata movement comes in the form of the D Major modulation that dispels storms, stress, and the misery of the world. The bubbling of the Hamburg Radio Symphony woodwinds contributes no less to the glow of this miraculous music than does Argerich’s inspired, seamless playing.

The three solo works that complement the Mozart concert belong to a Milan recital of 14 March 1966.  The Bach Toccata in c minor (c. 1710) derives from his encounter with Dieterich Buxtehude, whose improvisatory organ style Bach deeply admired. Bach’s first rush of notes covers three octaves, then assumes an air – in E Major – of religious contemplation. With the elongated fugue, Bach engages us in an epic, harmonic journey, one that introduces the main subject seventeen times.  The result offers us a piece for hands and mind of extraordinary breadth and variegated colors. Argerich applies a variety of bravura touches in this piece in the course of a vital, flexible tempo, and many of the affects float in an especial aether. The passion of divine numbers informs her playing of the fugue, destined to return to the figures of the opening, to land heartily, even divinely, on low C.

Argerich approaches the monumental C Major Fantasie of Schumann with a tragic rigor and broad, poetic palette.  Aware of how much of Clara Wieck – and the “unhappy summer of 1836” – infiltrates this music, Argerich deliberately nurtures an intimate, potently intense affect, especially in the first movement, with its allusions to Beethoven’s “distant beloved,” the rolling ninth chords, and avoidance of the home key, in the (anticipatory) manner of Wagner’s Tristan. The “legend,” as such evolves in intimate polyphony, becoming ever more thick in texture and chromatic harmony. The episodic character of the movement virtually defies one’s ability to maintain a common emotional thread throughout, but Argerich manages a fluid, tragic logic. The second movement, a massive, fiery march in punishing syncopations, spells danger for the most seasoned keyboard players: Clara (Wieck) Schumann confessed, “It makes me hot and cold all over.” A bit pesant, Argerich attacks the constant welter of dotted notes with a passion that means to incinerate the score. Argerich insists on perpetual speeding up, almost as if she were attending to Kreisleriana, until, inevitably, the leaping coda simply falls apart. Undeterred by finger slips and a slight memory lapse, Argerich proceeds to the poetic reverie of the last movement, with its homage to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Once more, Schumann lulls us into his patented ‘nostalgia for the dream.’ That the heroic dream has had its dark side should come as no surprise to initiates of the Davids-League. The audience applause suggests all has been forgiven.

Argerich concludes with the Three Mazurkas, Op. 59 of Chopin, from 1845.  Like her mentors Michelangeli and Nikita Magaloff,  Argerich contains the left hand elements in strict tempo under a fluctuating, resilient upper line.  Then a minor Mazurka proves flirtatious and piquant, its chromatic lines in constant, mercurial flux.  The moments of rubato scurry in between the notes, almost imperceptibly.  The trills extend the line in fluid, operatic bel canto style. The A-flat Major conveys the character of a national dance and lament, simultaneously. Though relatively brief, the piece from Argerich reveals its harmony and metric density, concentrated into a paean for former glory. With resolute aplomb, Argerich delivers the f-sharp minor oberek, which playd in the manner of the second of the impromptus.  Argerich takes its secondary period at a furious presto, then relents only slightly to convey the willful tragedy inherent in the explosive contours of this melancholy dance.

—Gary Lemco

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