Martha Argerich & Claudio Abbado: The Complete Concerto Recordings = PROKOFIEV: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26; RAVEL: Piano Concerto in G Major; CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 11; LISZT: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major; TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 23; BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19; Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37; MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466; Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503 – Berlin Philharmonic Orch. (Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Ravel)/ London Sym. Orch. (Chopin, Liszt, Ravel)/ Mahler Ch. Orch. (Beethoven)/ Orch. Mozart (Mozart)/ Claudio Abbado – DGG 479 4155 (5 CDs), 48:20, 77:59, 32:02, 44:02, 61:44 (1/20/15) [Distr. by Universal] *****:

This set commemorates a 45-year commercial association between two fine musicians, whose recording relationship ended at the Lucerne Festival at Easter, 2013. Conductor Claudio Abbado (1930-2014) had met Argentine piano virtuoso Martha Argerich (b. 1941) through their mutual piano master in Vienna, Friedrich Gulda.  Their recording career began in 1967, when they signed with DGG, with the release of the Prokofiev and Ravel concertos. As a belated tribute to their initial encounter, Argerich includes the Gulda first movement cadenza in her account of the Mozart C Major Concerto from Lucerne.

While Abbado provides excellent support with his various orchestras, the collector buys foremost the passionate wizardry of Martha Argerich and her thorough synthesis of a demonic technique and volatile subjectivity into every piece she encounters.  Argerich has consistently combined virile aggression and poetic tenderness in a delicately balanced alchemy, often with electrifying results. The Argerich performance of the Tchaikovsky Concerto from December 1994 makes an excellent case in point, passionate and heroically scaled. Abbado’s own contribution proves both elastic and potent, with excellent sonic detail from his brass, flute, oboe, and low winds.  The piano’s double octaves prior to the first cadenza testify to a firebrand keyboardist of the first order.  The fusion of stunning finger-control and spontaneous vehemence takes us through a blistering first movement, no less explosively confrontational in the latter two movements but intimate and tempestuously scintillating, respectively.

Perhaps not since the late Greek virtuoso Gina Bachauer had we heard a titanic powerhouse in Chopin as was Argerich in her February, 1968 inscription of the Chopin E Minor Concerto. The driven sense of Chopin’s fiery line invests both pianist and conductor, so that Abbado’s contribution rather “justifies” Chopin’s orchestral drama.  Much in the Rubinstein tradition, the performance never compromises the nobility of expression for suave and rhetorical effects. More than one pianist, including Argerich herself, has noted the complexity and knotty articulation that daunts executors of the last movement Rondo: Vivace. The kind of volcanic palette Argerich exerts here and once more in both the Liszt E-flat and the Ravel Concerto in G (two versions from 1967 and 1984) bespeak her debts to Magaloff and Michelangeli as noted practitioners of the grand style.  The breathtaking fluency of contour and nuanced expressiveness remind us of the sensational impression with which Argerich had struck critics and audiences alike.

Despite the athletic volatility of the Prokofiev C Major Concerto from May 1967, the performance reveals the often refined classicism that creator and interpreter can impose on modern expressions of traditional forms. The playfulness of the outer movements corresponds to the healthy banter that infects the Beethoven B-flat Concerto from 2000 in a performance from Ferrara, Italy.  The combination of discipline and irreverence defines both composers’ approach to the past.  With their final collaborations in Mozart in Lucerne, the valedictory intimacy of the occasion becomes retrospective, given that Abbado would pass away months later in January, 2014.  But the lyrico-dramatic mass of the D Minor Concerto and the virtually Miltonic breadth of the C Major Concerto each benefit from crystalline filigree from Argerich and a strongly architectural balance from Abbado, who had certainly achieved a notable sense of musical character in his own terms, beyond the merely effective, linear style that had defined his performances for many years.

—Gary Lemco