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Martha Argerich ‘third… and best’ recording of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Piano Concerto No. 1; Symphony No. 9
Martha Argerich (piano), Jakub Waszczeniuk (trumpet); Sinfonia Varsovia/Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky
Narodowy Instytut Fryderyka Chopina NIFCCD 053

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This is Martha Argerich’s third recording of Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto – and I can confidently say the best. Recorded live in Warsaw in 2006, just two months after her acclaimed performance in Lugano (on Warner), Argerich, her fellow soloist, trumpeter Jakub Waszezeniuk, and the Sinfonia Varsovia under Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky, present an even more polished, spontaneous and characterful account, yet avoiding those moments of over self-conscious point making to be found in the Lugano version.

If Argerich does not quite capture the wry humour of the first and final movements’ free-wheeling and often incongruous juxtaposition of concerto clichés, her scintillating and stunningly reliable virtuosity (with none of the untidiness that marred her first account on DG) offer their own particular pleasure. And Argerich uses her interpretative alchemy to transform Shostakovich’s generic gestures into expressive gold – not only in the slow second movement, but also the opening of the third movement by an artful use of rubato. One can well understand the enthusiasm of the Warsaw audience, who are granted the finale as their encore.

Given Argerich’s strong association with Prokofiev’s Third Concerto, it is not surprising that his spirit hovers over her interpretation. Likewise in the Ninth Symphony, Rabinovitch-Barakovsky highlights several echoes from Prokofiev as well as other canonic works – I’m not sure I have heard the scherzo’s allusion to Berlioz’s Queen Mab (a model for so many Russian symphonists) so clearly brought out as here. The performance is by turns perky, alert, brooding, and ultimately – for all its breezy neo-classicism – disquieting.

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Daniel Jaffé