Martha Argerich - Live From Lugano 2008
Anyone seeking evidence of how keenly Martha Argerich can adjust her personality to suit the interpretative preferences of her colleagues need only compare these two versions of Schumann’s Second Violin Sonata from Lugano in 2008 and Berlin in 2006. Argerich in Lugano collaborates with Renaud Capuçon, darting about the score as if treading hot coals, nimble, at times breathless, and consistently appreciative of Capuçon’s malleable phrasing and warmly brushed tone. The rapport with a more grainy, acerbic-sounding Gidon Kremer (Berlin) is as great but quite different in musical effect, even though the two sets of movement timings match (within seconds) and in both cases Argerich is recognisably herself. But the contrasts in approach are telling and at times fairly subtle. For example, near the start of the Sonata’s slow movement, when the violinist switches from pizzicato to arco – in Gidon Kremer’s case a transformation from genial troubadour to ghostly apparition – Argerich anticipates the change by stealthily, almost hesitantly, slowing the tempo. This is Schumann at his most unhinged. While the Capuçon/Argerich partnership goes for colour and volatility, Kremer and Argerich (who recorded the work some years ago for DG), although equally exciting, are more darkly insistent, more appreciative perhaps of the music’s troubled soul. Rarely on disc have so many superficial similarities gone hand in hand with as many profound dissimilarities.
Both performances are riveting, and I suppose the two very different acoustics (Lugano is far airier) might have something to do with why Argerich projects so differently in each case. Still, when deciding which version to go for, potential purchasers are likely to view the two programming contexts as crucial. The Lugano set, the latest in series devoted to live recordings from the Festival, is full of memorable treats. It closes with a kaleidoscopic half-hour Fantasia elvetica by Mikhail Pletnev who also conducts the Svizzera Italiana Orchestra, his two piano soloists for the occasion Argerich and Alexander Mogilevsky. Although stylistically eclectic (Respighi, Sibelius, Saint- Saëns, Poulenc and Shchedrin all came to mind) the Fantasia is delightful: frothy, listener-friendly and packed full of cheeky tunes. Ravel’s two-piano transcription of his Introduction and Allegro (Giorgia Tomassi, Alessandro Stella) trades a delicate dreamscape for billowing virtuosity: the effect is rather like the piano version of “Une barque sur l’océan”. There are piano duets or twopiano works by Mozart (Andante and Variations, K501), Saint-Saëns (a rather equivocal-sounding Scherzo, Op 87), Rachmaninov (Suite No 1 with Argerich and Lilya Zilberstein) and dances by Piazzolla and DvoΣák. We’re also given Piazzolla’s Four Seasons arranged for piano trio. Argerich leads a tangy, rhythmically supple account of Janácek’s madcap Concertino, Lily and Mischa Maisky join violinist Alissa Margulis for Shostakovich’s 12-minute First Piano Trio (very much the world of the First Symphony) and Zilberstein is the pianist in Arensky’s richly romantic Piano Quintet in D. A sense of joy reigns throughout: this music-making could happily serve as a corrective whenever some half-hearted studio-bound session dampens your spirits.
The Berlin concert with Argerich and Kremer is equally gripping but quite different. Argerich goes solo for a typically quixotic account of Schumann’s Kinderszenen, each cameo following swiftly on the heels of the last, the style alert, playful, keenly attentive to inner voices and in the last two pieces appropriately poised. But for me the performances that make this Berlin concert absolutely indispensable are the two Bartók sonatas. The First Sonata’s agitated badinage reaches fever pitch in the finale where Kremer swings in on a glissando and the two go hell for leather as one racy folk-style motif follows another. The Sonata’s close is an absolute riot, so much so that the first encore, Kreisler’s Liebesleid, limps in like an innocent bystander mistakenly targeted in a fight. True, Schön Rosmarin picks up the spirit but even Kreisler’s charm cannot quite erase the recent memory of Bartók’s unrelenting onslaught. Even these artists’ commercial recording of the work (DG, 1/91R) is quite upstaged. And that isn’t the best of it. The first CD concludes with one of the finest ever recorded performances of Bartók’s Solo Sonata, Kremer calling on his full repertoire of violinistic devices which include, in addition to the many called for in the score, a mastery of tonal colouring and a rhythmic grip that at times seem to transcend the limitations of the instrument. Kremer doesn’t so much play as speak to you through the music and while his tone hasn’t the alluring sweetness of, say, a (young) Menuhin, the sheer electricity of his interpretation more than compensates. Not once does the tension even begin to ease. What an artist!