Martha Argerich, Vol. I = Vintage Mozart from Argerich – Doremi DHR-8024, 75:12 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
Martha Argerich (b. 1941), the fiery Argentine piano virtuoso, has evolved a cult-status that rivals those of her pedagogue Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995). Jacob Harnoy’s Doremi label delves into the 1960 archives from Cologne and Munich to resurrect Mozart performances by the then-nineteen-year-old titan, including a version of the C Major Mozart Concerto with Peter Maag, a repertory work she has never committed to commercial recording.
In somewhat distant sound, the 1785 Mozart C Major Concerto form Cologne (5 September 1960) with Swiss conductor Peter Maag (1919-2001) enjoys a potent, martial spirit in the opening Allegro maestoso, the piano part engaged and digitally lucid. Argerich seems concerned to restrain her dynamic level, opting for intimacy over mechanical bravura. Her easy runs lead into the first major melody, the same Mozart employs in his Horn Concerto No. 3. The dialogue with the various woodwind instruments proves expansive, especially since much of the writing aspires to symphonic scale. The seamless transition to the recapitulation well captures the festive pomp of the occasion, with the flute, clarinet and piano in airy colloquy.
The F Major Andante has a lyrical life of its own, an operatic aria – with its skip of a seventh – over a pulsating string accompaniment that ranges from a coloratura’s high C to a low A. Argerich immediately projects the music’s haunted intimacy, the mystical power of which dominated Bo Widerberg’s tragic romance, Elvira Madigan. The finale plays like an opera buffa, rife with good humor and high spirits. Gieseking used to precede the Allegro with a dazzling little cadenza of his own. Argerich here insists on speed of execution as her calling card, and pretty impressive remains. Energetic and eminently witty, the brisk and nuanced dynamics fly up from and around the keyboard, all with a light hand. Maag, himself no mean Mozart acolyte, knows how to apply the electricity or the soft glove when necessary, all in the cause of virtuoso collaboration.
Conceived in Paris, the summer of 1777, the A Minor Sonata conveys a tragic character. Though Argerich performs the aggressive opening, dotted-rhythm statement with a light touch, the relentless left hand eighth notes provide an unnerving tension to the whole. Sixteenth notes, too, cascade with angry energy which Argerich’s leggiero does not abate. Perhaps the death of Mozart’s mother, an event exacerbated by his antipathy to Paris, provided the dark impetus to this music. The sense of imminent threat pervades the F Major Andante Cantabile as well, although its elegance subsumes the emotional depths – especially in the middle section, an adumbration of dark Schubert – beneath a staid, exceptionally civilized surface. The final Presto has Argerich (rec. 26 April 1960 in Munich) return to the tumult of the first movement, tolerating only brief glimpses of saving light. Argerich generates, in a spirit close to that of the famed Lipatti rendition, throughout the sonata the image of a troubled beauty, whose moments of tender consolation do not entirely suffice to alleviate the dire crises of experience.
The Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 333 supposedly dates from Linz, 1783, although scholars argue for dates as late as 1778. Argerich (26 April 1960, Munich) addresses the florid opening movement Allegro maestoso with a breezy application of the basic Alberti bass figures that suddenly rocket forward in decisive motion, much in the manner of concertante writing. The ornamental aspects of the filigree and the more chromatic dark places pass by graciously and athletically, the seamless playing reminiscent of that of Lili Kraus. The central Andante Cantabile, chromatic and highly expressive, finds a nuanced performer in Argerich, avoiding anything like self-aggrandizement in her operatically poignant realization. The Allegretto grazioso finale, a rondo, projects a jaunty, carefree humor. Argerich has a potent cadenza prior to the final appearance of the main theme and the movement’s brilliantly colorful conclusion.
Mozart’s last completed Piano Sonata in D Major, K. 576 (1789) asks Argerich to suggest a hunting motif at the outset, Allegro, in which the two hands seem to chase each other in various registers, a “hunt” in a literal sense. The effect proves so blithe that we hardly realize how seamless has been the musical progression. The slow movement, Adagio, proceeds in chromatic, affecting spurts until its middle section, in F-sharp Minor – reminiscent of the Concerto No. 23 middle movement – assumes it so own place in this highly “emotional” music, close in spirit to C.P.E. Bach. The concluding Allegretto, a rondo, begins with a child-like tune that soon assumes a plastic and imposing shape, likely beyond the powers of King Frederick Wilhelm II of Prussia, who commissioned it. For Ms. Argerich, the excursion proves a tonic reminder of the eager finesse she exhibited even as a callow youth.