The best recordings of pianist Martha Argerich
Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich is known for being as versatile as she is charismatic in her approach to music, with recordings of concertos and chamber music spanning centuries and vastly different compositional styles. Here, we name some of the greatest performances of Argerich on disc
Only 24 when she was captured playing at Abbey Road, shortly after winning the 1965 Warsaw Chopin competition and shortly before she signed to Deutsche Grammophon (hence it taking EMI almost 35 years to allow it to appear), Martha Argerich performs with such white-hot intensity that it scarcely feels like a studio recording.
Her volcanic energy can leave you scrambling to keep up, but the Third Sonata is breathtaking in its spontaneity, and the Mazurkas are richly imbued with Polish spirit.
'Argerich herself leads off here, in Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto, displaying suppleness, rhythmic power, structural majesty and intimacy of inflection. This performance has Classical poise and unforced vitality, enhanced by an opera buffa humour all the more amusing for its impeccable elegance,' wrote our reviewer Jeremy Siepmann.
'After outstanding performances of the Ravel Violin Sonata and of the Debussy Petite Suite on the third CD come two laugh-aloud demonstrations of the sheer, contagious fun that so-called classical music can provide, and the humour rests as much with the performers as with the music. Argerich and Lilya Zilberstein’s inspired caricature of incompetent pianists (in the Saint-Saëns) is hilarious – indeed the performance overall is unsurpassed in my experience.'
'This is a marvellous disc. Both of these warhorses of the concerto repertoire are given performances of distinction', wrote Jan Smaczny. 'Martha Argerich and Charles Dutoit take a spacious, richly Romantic view of the Piano Concerto; Nathan Milstein and Claudio Abbado combine exhilarating verve and aristocratic eloquence in what must rate as one of the best renditions of the Violin Concerto available on record.'
'Classic live 1977 performances, throughout which Argerich’s lightning reflexes create pianistic whirls of virtuosity – and somehow she still manages to hit all the right notes', our reviewer Julian Haylock added, when he reviewed the disc as a reissue.
'Having quit the lists as a solo pianist, Martha Argerich has invented an equally brilliant career for herself as a chamber player, often with the young protégés she performs with at the Lugano Festival. Two of those – Lilya Zilberstein and Gabriela Montero – play on this double disc, which is further evidence of her fertile musical influence', wrote our reviewer Michael Church.
'This is a really fine performance, with impeccably judged tempos in all three movements, and great playing from the Orchestra Mozart, which was formed by Abbado some ten years ago,' wrote our reviewer Misha Donat. 'Argerich's playing is full of both unforced poetry and eloquence, as well as commanding authority where needed.'
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'This is Martha Argerich’s third recording of Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto – and I can confidently say the best,' wrote our reviewer Daniel Jaffé. 'Argerich uses her interpretative alchemy to transform Shostakovich’s generic gestures into expressive gold. The performance is by turns perky, alert, brooding, and ultimately – for all its breezy neo-classicism – disquieting.'
'Drive and muscularity are tempered with the most persuasive, caressing gestures in playing whose authority of utterance and integrity of vision almost silence criticism. Every note – even the few where Argerich’s constantly inspired and imaginative interpretation verges on eccentricity – shines with purpose', wrote our reviewer Christopher Wood.
Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.