Rendez-vous with Martha Argerich
There are live recordings and there are live recordings. Some catapult you straight to the event while others leave you with a mere impression of what happened, and that’s about it. ‘Rendez-vous with Martha Argerich’ is securely in the first camp. Having over the years followed various of her releases taped live at Lugano and other venues I can confirm that her characteristically high voltage as a performer remains constant more or less for the duration, even when she’s not actually playing. Her coltish spirit permeates everything you hear.
Take the two Debussy sonatas, for violin and piano with Géza Hosszu-Legocky and pianist Evgeny Bozhanov, and for cello and piano with Mischa Maisky and Argerich herself, the latter where warmth and playfulness are balanced in equal measure. But the Violin Sonata is something else again, eerily erotic, whether shimmering pianissimo or flirting with gypsy-style inflections (Ivry Gitlis sprang to mind more than once). ‘Fêtes’ with Argerich and Anton Gerzenberg is bright and propulsive, while Prélude à L’après-midi d’un faune, where Argerich partners Stephen Kovacevich, bares its heart with unimpeded warmth. Ravel’s La valse (two pianos again) finds Argerich and Nicholas Angelich exploring myriad colours, often with considerable delicacy, while the two works for violin and cello (by Ravel, with Alexandra Conunova and Edgar Moreau, and by Kodály with Guy Braunstein and Alisa Weilerstein) focus the very different characters of both pieces, coolly sophisticated in the former, folksy and often wildly impassioned in the latter.
Argerich makes Shostakovich’s First Concerto sound like an off-the-cuff improvisation (how many times must that have been said of her playing?) with that ‘Heifetz of the trumpet’ Sergei Nakariakov constantly chasing on her heels. The E minor Piano Trio (Argerich, Weilerstein, Braunstein) parades a painful, even tragic sense of irony, while Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes eschews its usual bright premonitions of Fiddler on the Roof and instead suggests Ghetto victims dancing in their heads. Again, the mood is sullen; the heart of the piece weighs heavily. Other Prokofiev gems include a sequence of pieces from the Cinderella ballet arranged for two pianos by Mikhail Pletnev, involving two sets of pianists (Alexander Mogilevsky/Akane Sakai, Bozhanov/Kasparas Uinsksas), ‘Quarrel’ sounding like an angry finale from one of the piano sonatas (plenty of syncopations), ‘Cinderella’s Waltz’ spinning a genuine sense of magic. The highlight of the Sonata for two violins (Tedi Papavrami and Akiko Suwanai) is the remarkably beautiful Commodo third movement.
Schumann is represented initially by the three Fantasiestücke for cello and piano, where Maisky and Argerich effect an embrace that ends in wild abandon, certainly ‘with fire’ as marked. More interesting still is the ‘first edition 1840’ of Dichterliebe, where Thomas Hampson, who by 2018 (the year of these concerts) was in his early sixties, imbues each song with a wealth of feeling if without the rock-solid vocal security of his prime. Then again, some of the greatest Dichterliebes of yesteryear (Lotte Lehmann with Bruno Walter, Pierre Bernac with Francis Poulenc) have defied time in a similar way – just sample Hampson’s entrancing account of ‘Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet’ – and there’s the added attraction of having four lovely songs that never made the first edition (you can check them out on disc 5 tracks 8, 9, 18 and 19). Hampson’s feeling for words and his ability to colour them in musical terms make this a rather special performance, and being partnered by Argerich (who approaches Cortot in the same role for Panzéra and Souzay) is an added boon.
As for Mendelssohn, perhaps not quite such a happy story. We’re given the D minor Piano Trio arranged for flute, cello and piano, Maisky and Argerich (especially) playing brilliantly; and although flautist Susanne Barner takes to her role with what sounds like relative ease, the arrangement only really works in the Scherzo, which could easily flit among the pages of the Midsummer Night’s Dream incidental music. The remaining movements want for the sort of expressive vibrancy that Mendelssohn must surely have had in mind when he scored the Trio’s ‘soprano’ line for violin. The same CD includes an agile, warmly expressed and very nicely turned Beethoven Triple Concerto with Papavrami, Maisky and Argerich and the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra under Ion Marin. There are also excellent performances of Brahms’s Second Violin Sonata (Suwanai and Angelich) and Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata (cellist Jing Zhao and pianist Lilya Zilberstein).
The last CD is pure fun. Annie Dutoit narrates a superbly played (and recorded) Carnival of the Animals, very amusingly narrated (in French – no translation is provided), with Marin conducting, and there are piano and instrumental pieces by Lecuona, Albéniz, Villoldo, Rovira and Piazzolla, while to close there’s a tango-style send-up of Eine kleine Nachtmusik featuring the Guttman Tango Quartet. Hopefully you’ll by now have guessed that this set has given me enormous pleasure and I’m convinced that it will have the same effect on you too. There are plenty of photos and ‘mini-biogs’ but no notes on the music. Very strongly recommended all the same.