Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Ideale Audience
WORKS: Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2; Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 1; Bizet: Symphony In C
PERFORMER: Martha Argerich (piano), Davie Guerrier (trumpet); Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra/Gábor Takács-Nagy
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 307 9568 (NTSC system; PCM stereo; 16:9 picture format); Blu-ray: 307 9564 (1080i HD; PCM 2.0; 16:9 picture format)

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Martha Argerich is the chief focus of these performances from the 2009 and 2010 Verbier Festivals. Both directors capture her unique artistry: she stands no nonsense, adds no frills, takes no prisoners. With a flick of her silver mane or the nonchalant toss of a hanky into the piano’s innards as she approaches it for her encore, she sets about the down-to-earth matter of sublime music-making, pulling all her colleagues into her spell.

Beethoven’s Second Concerto becomes a triumph of energy, fire and elegance: Argerich and Gábor Takács-Nagy conjure an atmosphere of mystical compassion in the slow movement and offer a finale of gleeful athleticism. Argerich’s strongly articulated playing encompasses both inspired detail and an unshakeable sense of architecture; her rhythmic flair, studded with light yet bulls-eye accentuations, carries the action like a heartbeat. And her fingerwork in the Scarlatti encore has to be seen to be believed. Next up is the Shostakovich Piano Concerto No.1, a work that can easily turn into a caricature – but Argerich, Takács-Nagy and the serious and polished Davie Guerrier don’t ham it up more than Shostakovich requires. The Concerto’s humour and its sardonic shadow-side exist simultaneously.

Takács-Nagy partners Argerich sensitively. Using no baton – just the occasional pencil – he never loses sight of the landscape in a quest for its fruits, and his way of shaping long phrases and building paragraphs is as special as his airy rhythms and attention to inner voices.

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Nevertheless, the orchestra of youthful players sometimes sounds challenged in the ‘bonus’ Bizet Symphony, the writing of which is notoriously exposed. And though the filming beautifully captures the personalities of the performers, the sound is miked closely; probably necessary in the Verbier tent, but also amplifying the piano’s pedalling and some chirpy singing along from the conductor. Jessica Duchen