Music from Saratoga - Bartok/Liszt/Prokofiev

Martha Argerich and friends caught live in a typically adventurous programme of twentieth-century chamber music

Author: 
David Fanning

Music from Saratoga - Bartok/Liszt/Prokofiev

  • Quintet
  • Concerto pathétique
  • Contrasts

Prokofiev’s Quintet is one of those frustrating pieces which is highly revealing about its composer but not always very rewarding as a musical experience. What it reveals is a composer determined to match, if not outdo, the dernier cri in Paris in the mid-1920s, represented by Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale and the elegant inelegancies of Les Six, and to do so by setting every aspect of the music at a calculated angle to the expected. So far as the public at the time was concerned, the results missed the spot by miles and the piece soon fell into oblivion. But its acerbic contrivances were not lost on some of the more switched-on composers in the Soviet Union; Shostakovich in his Second Symphony and Popov in his Septet/Chamber Symphony owe it a considerable debt.
In its original guise the Quintet must have been a wonderful score for the ballet Trapeze about circus life. At any rate the performance here is so deliciously pungent that I found myself enjoying the piece as never before and wondering whether the real reason for its neglect is not simply the rarity of first-rate performances such as this one.
Even more of a rarity is Liszt’s Concerto pathetique, here in the two-piano arrangement of the later version of what’s usually known as the Grosses Konzertsolo. Historically its single-movement form was an important forerunner of the great B minor Sonata. Musically its assemblage of favourite rhetorical devices is hugely obvious but also great fun if you take it simply as a vehicle for larger-than-life artistry. Argerich and Freire are a team of long standing, and their understanding is as close as their temperaments are uninhibited - a sure recipe for fireworks.
The Bartok Contrasts are of course no stranger to the catalogues. They receive as engaging and idiomatic a performance as you could wish for.
For supposedly live recordings there’s little or no evidence of audience presence, and the recording quality has no drawbacks except for the too backwardly placed piano in the Bartok.'

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