Martha Argerich Edition: Concertos = Works of CHOPIN, PROKOFIEV, BARTOK, BEETHOVEN, SCHUMANN etc.- EMI (4 CDs)

by | Aug 11, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Martha Argerich Edition: Concertos = CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 11; Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21; PROKOFIEV: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat Major, Op. 10; Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26; BARTOK: Piano Concerto No. 3; BEETHOVEN: Triple Concerto in C Major, Op. 56; SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54; SHOSTAKOVICH: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 35; FALLA: Nights in the Gardens of Spain; PLETNEV: Fantasia elvetica for 2 Pianos and Orchestra – Martha Argerich, piano/Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal/Charles Dutoit/ Renaud Capucon, violin/Mischa Maisky, cello/ Orchestre della Svizzera Italiana (Schumann, Shostakovich. Falla, Pletnev)/ Alexandre Rabinovitch/Sergei Nakariakov, trumpet/ Alexandre Vedernikov (Shostakovich, Falla)/ Alexander Mogilevsky, piano/Mikhail Pletnev – EMI Classics 0 94031 2 (4 CDs), 69:02; 70:10; 64:35; 77:20 ****:
The art of Argentine pianist Martha Argerich (b. 1941) in the concerto medium, 1997-2009, finds a happy assemblage in these four discs, of which the Schumann, Shostakovich, Falla, and Pletnev works derive from live concerts from the Palazzo del Congressi, Lugano, Switzerland. Despite a degree of seclusion in regard to solo recitals that rivals Glenn Gould‘s “concert dropout” status, Argerich maintains her repute among the elite pianists of the world, her studies with Scaramuzza, Gulda, Magaloff, and Michelangeli a constant source of insight and technical flair.
Argerich and former husband Charles Dutoit perform the two Chopin concertos (29-32 October 1998) in Montreal. Argerich, having recorded these works at an early age, allows us to hear a degree of maturity and poise that has ingratiated itself into her formidable technique in these readings. The phrases in the E Minor Concerto enjoy a breadth and thrilling volatility in Chopin’s roulades and flourishes we savored when Rubinstein and Gilels were at their respective peaks. The bel canto ethos Chopin took from Bellini has its marvelous realization in the respective slow movements of both concertos. The EMI sound may seem relatively pinched when compared to the Decca inscriptions of the Montreal Symphony, but none can claim that Dutoit retards any progress from this suavely stylistic pair of readings.
The music of Prokofiev’s piano concertos appears tailor-made for Argerich’s hard patina and blazing pyrotechnics, and her 1997 traversals of the D-flat and C Major Concertos complements her earlier inscription, certainly, of the C Major with Claudio Abbado. Plastic and playful, the D-flat Major has great energy and savoir faire, but I do not find the same catapulted electricity here as I do in the Sviatoslav Richter/Karel Ancerl or Mindru Katz/Adrian Boult readings. Bright and articulate as the Argerich version is, the tonal balances seem to me too calculated and effective. But those Argerich fingers move fleetly, to be sure. The 1921 C Major Concerto’s fiery impulses do well under Argerich, where her often pearly legato can counter the flashing figures in staccato and rounded glissando. Between stunning acrobatics and melancholy love songs Argerich utters striking poetry, instilling a sensuous sfumato effect on the composer’s often modal harmonies. The plastic currents of the second movement E Minor theme-and-variations prove most winning, alternately capricious, brazen, and eminently lyrical.  Dutoit’s colorful contribution–including castanets–adds to the colossally bravura effect, especially in the last pages. Out of the often grueling fioritura of the last movement, the tender melody rises in romantic gestures worthy of Prokofiev’s gloomy compatriot, Rachmaninov. Irony, prevails, however, and Argerich and Dutoit move to the blistering coda with ever mounting thunder and steely knuckles.
Argerich conveys a sensitively gentle appreciation of the last of the Bartok concertos, with its E Major affect, intertwined with mixolydian harmony. The relative “simplicity” of the keyboard part–at least compared to the two other Bartok concertos–allows a freshness born of textural and thematic clarity. Exuberant spirits prevail in the first movement in spite of the aesthetics of what Bartok termed “polymodal chromaticism.” The “night music” in Bartok’s second movement has a poetic advocate in Argerich‘s studied recitatives, intoning in chorale style a pentatonic version of Wagner’s Tristan motif.  The music achieves a fascinating, even numinous (“religioso”), glow before subsiding into a folksy variant on the initial nocturne. A strong optimism reigns in the last movement, which exerts the jabbing rhythms and punctuations of Hungarian folk music we know from the two prior concertos. The obligatory counterpoint playfully advances by virtue of the Argerich deft touches. String pedal and an active tympani keep our ears fixated on the ground while Argerich sails skyward in ravishing leaps and runs, a real exertion of muscular enthusiasm for this most accessible of the Bartok piano concertos.
The “Romantic” CD opens with the Beethoven 1803 Triple Concerto in C Major from 12 June 2003 from the Lugano Project, a musical enterprise that in several ways parallels what the Marlboro and Menlo Festivals accomplish in the USA. Cellist Mischa Maisky (b. 1948) and violinist Renaud Capucon (b. 1976) collaborate with Argerich and conductor Alexandre Rabinovitch (b. 1945) for a rather streamlined performance of the work, emphasizing its forward motion in rather antique modes, given that the medium would seem more appropriate to Bach and Vivaldi than to the ultimate iconoclast of his time. The opening Allegro’s continuous rush of triplets in the piano part present no real challenge to Argerich, who manages to infuse the first music with crisp grace and lyrical drama. Maisky has the lion’s share in the cello part, which leads every new motif, including a rare expositional modulation into A Minor.  A lovely A-flat Largo–with very sweet figures from Capucon and Maisky–and a delicately spirited series of sizzling roulades–in a bolero rhythm in its central section–in the last movement Rondo alla polacca make for a lasting shelf-life for this recording, whose last two chords have barely decayed before the applause breaks loose.
The Schumann Concerto (23 June 2002, Lugano) remains an Argerich staple, and this performance packs an immediate punch that refuses to relent, often rivaling in its impulses rushes of energy the more intense performances in my lexicon, like that of Claudio Arrau and Victor de Sabata. Pearly play in perfectly balanced symmetries marks the entire conception–with no sag in either the often feverishly potent musical line and explosive orchestral complement–or in the explicit poetry of expression. Argerich’s first movement cadenza convinces us she has three hands, each of which can play its own concerto. No less bravura permeates the finale, literally holding the audience captive until; the last chords unleash a fury of approbation.
Because Argerich wanted to perform with trumpet virtuoso Sergei Nakariakov (b. 1977), she deliberately programmed the acrobatic Shostakovich Op. 35 C Minor Concerto (17 June 2006) with conductor Vedernikov, with its wonderfully flamboyant riffs for both piano and trumpet. The celebration of the Shostakovich centennial in 2006 adds to the festivity of the occasion, a romp in which every note serves as a vehicle for extraordinary propulsion and plastic élan.  Just ask the explosive audience. The 11 June 2009 Nights in the Gardens of Spain adds another sensuous excursion into Moorish territory by way of Falla’s seductive figures, the playing light but scintillating and flexible in its Andalusian rhythms and evocative, Debussy-influenced colors. Argerich’s uncanny fusion of Iberian nocturne and fiery gypsy dances makes the performance competitive with the Casadesus/Mitropoulos and Rubinstein/Jorda staples of our collectors’ consciousness. Conductor Vedernikov squeezes some feral juice out of the Distant Dance, the lithe flames of the campfires wafting into the Sierra de Cordoba.
Conductor, pianist, and composer Mikhail Pletnev (b. 1957) conceived his thirty-minute Fantasia elvetica (Swiss Fantasy) as homage both to Switzerland and to Argerich’s Lugano Project. The bucolic landscape, Swiss folk song, Alpine festival, and Lutheran chorale music intertwine in the course of its four movements. Despite the professionalism of the writing, critic Andrew Clements in The Guardian called the piece “gruesomely kitschy.”  Pianist Alexander Mogilevsky (b. 1977) joins Argerich for the Swiss excursion, the colors alternately romantic, jazzy, and folkish, especially when Pletnev invokes a waltz, march, yodel, or polka. The battery section, along with the Swiss Italian Orchestra brass, invoke cowbells and mountain goats and streams, in watered-down Mahler/Shostakovich-clone coloration. The audience obviously relished the spectacle.
–Gary Lemco

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