COMPOSERS: Bach,Bartok,Beethoven,Brahms,Chopin,Liszt,Prokofiev & Ravel; Works for piano solo and duo by Chopin,Ravel,Schumann,Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Concertos by Beethoven, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Schumann, Liszt, Prokofiev & Ravel; Works for piano solo and duo by Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, Ravel, Bach, Bartok
PERFORMER: Martha Argerich (piano), Various artists
CATALOGUE NO: 453 566-2 ADD/DDD 1961-86
No pianist of comparable greatness has made herself scarcer than Martha Argerich. More than a quarter of a century has passed since her last solo recital, and considering that she began recording with DG in 1960, her recordings, too, are tantalisingly few. Most of them, happily, are to be found in this fabulous box of delights and all of them reveal an artist of prodigious gifts and extraordinary attainment.
Unlike the fabled Liszt, whose music she probably plays as convincingly as he did, she is reputed never to practise, which may account in part for her exceptional spontaneity. Like Liszt, she is one of nature’s most inspired improvisers. Unlike him, however, she never tampers with the score itself, but I doubt if she’s ever played the same work twice in quite the same way. Dedicated gramophiles can put this to the test by comparing her playing of those few works which she’s recorded both live and in the studio.
Among them is the Tchaikovsky First Concerto. Included here is the dazzling and poetic studio version. Among the very few which surpass it is her own, concert performance from 1980, where she chances her arm time and again and repeatedly emerges victorious. This exhilarating sense of danger is one of the hallmarks of Argerich’s playing, and is deliciously evident in her unsurpassed accounts of the Prokofiev and Ravel concertos.
As in her performances of all the other concertos here, she proves a flexible and impeccably keen-eared collaborator. While never fighting shy of rhetoric and the heroic gesture, she brings to her concerto-playing the instincts of a born chamber-player. Acutely responsive both to conductors and individual members of the orchestra, she continually engages in rapturous musical conversation.
Those few detractors who accuse her of being indiscriminately electrifying may be surprised to find her among the most deeply satisfying and unmannered champions of Bach. Happily availing herself of all the piano’s most expressive properties, she manages at the same time to convey a passion which is almost chaste.
Only apostles of the musical hair-shirt could find her Bach ‘romanticised’. I know of no more rewarding or compelling performances of the C minor Toccata or the Second Partita (and the A minor English Suite runs them a very close second).
But then the same can be said of her Chopin and Schumann, whose infinite variety, psychological acumen and technical mastery are unsurpassed, for my money, by any other player, alive or dead. Indeed of all the present performances, only the Brahms Rhapsodies, recorded when she was 19, reveal even the smallest gap between performer and composer. Jeremy Siepmann