Martha Argerich: Nobel Prize Concert

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Chopin,Prokofiev,Ravel,Shostakovich
LABELS: EuroArts
WORKS: Nobel Prize Concert: Ravel: Piano Concerto in G; Chopin: Mazurka in C, Op. 21 No. 2; Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet Suites Nos 1 & 2 – excerpts; Shostakovich: Festival Overture
PERFORMER: Martha Argerich (piano); Royal Stockholm PO/Yuri Temirkanov (Stockholm, 2009)
CATALOGUE NO: 205 7898

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Why is it de rigueur to adorn the menus of DVDs with short, looping clips from the music about to be played? This idiotic practice is the work of designers rather than musicians and in no way enhances the experience.

Would it really be so terrible to have silence rather than treating great works like cheap aural wallpaper? In the case of Vladimir Jurowski’s concert with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, it extends to appending a ridiculous introduction sequence rather than merely giving the opening credits over the sound of the audience settling.

The concerts themselves contain flashes of brilliance and moments of profound insight, but each also carries some more pedestrian baggage. The undoubted highlight of Jurowski’s concert is a translucent performance of Strauss’s Metamorphosen.

The ebb and flow is exquisite, and the benefits of having a true chamber orchestra, rather than simply a reduced orchestral string section. The lines are individually moulded, yet never lose sight of the fluid whole.

Sadly, while played with polish, the remainder of the concert does not – indeed, scarcely could – compare. The frolics of Le bourgeois gentilhomme are played with aplomb, but the very opening is marred by a terribly clumsy edit.

Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G is common to both concerts, and both soloists have a long pedigree with the work. Hélène Grimaud and Jurowski make surprisingly heavy weather of the opening movement, as if playing Rachmaninov or, for that matter, Ravel’s Left Hand Concerto.

The comparison with Martha Argerich’s playful insouciance in the 2009 Nobel Prize Concert is instructive. In the slow movement, which is where any performance stands or falls, Grimaud fares better, but is slightly hard-edged during her solo.

Argerich plays with a remarkable combination of freedom and control. She is the undoubted star of the 2009 Nobel Prize Concert, answering her audience’s calls for an encore with a Chopin Mazurka. 

One would imagine that Yuri Temirkanov would relish being released from the role of genial straight man, in the excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet suites.

He certainly draws an impressive sound from the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, especially in quieter passages, but this is a decidedly mundane performance and the ‘Dance of the Knights’ section of Montagues and Capulets is bereft of tension.

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Perversely, the excerpts from the Suites are played out of any logical order. Christopher Dingle