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Mischa Maisky and Martha Argerich in concert
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) arr. Igor Stravinsky and Gregor Piatigorsky
“Suite italienne” from “Pulcinella” (1920, this arr. 1935) [17:36]
Serge PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Sonata for Cello and Piano op.119 (1949) [23:28]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Sonata for Cello and Piano op. 40 (1934) [25:40]
PROKOFIEV arr. Gregor Piatigorsky and Sviatoslav Kiushevitsky
Waltz from the Ballet “Stone Flower” (1948) [02:16]
Mischa Maisky (cello); Martha Argerich (piano)
rec. live April 2003, Studio 4, Flagey Hall, Brussels, Belgium
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4775323 [72:22 (including 5 tracks of applause)]
Experience Classicsonline

Given that Martha Argerich’s legendary status increases with every solo appearance she doesn’t make, pianophiles will leap avidly upon such concerto or chamber collaborations as she is willing to give us. There can be no doubt here about the range of colour she provides, her refined poetry and her almost mind-boggling vitality. Furthermore, she does all this without ever hogging the limelight. Agreement between the two artists is total.

All the same …

We know from Stravinsky’s recordings of the original “Pulcinella” ballet, as well as his recording of the violin version of the “Suite italienne” with Samuel Dushkin, that he liked this music to go with brisk, no-nonsense but un-hectic tempi in the faster movements, and insisted that the slower ones should be expressive against the backdrop of a firm rhythmic pulse. Maisky and Argerich might well have added their own names to those of Stravinsky and Piatigorsky as arrangers. Not that they have actually changed any notes – I presume – but because they have seemingly stripped the music down and reconstructed it according to their own image. Extreme rubatos, expressive nudges on single notes, magical, Debussy-like sonorities from the pianist. It’s fascinating to hear the music emerge completely new, as though a Picasso black-and-white drawing had been coloured by Monet. But it’s not Stravinsky.

For the other works I have no comparisons and have to rely on my instincts. Late Prokofiev can seem bland compared with his earlier works. I suspect this piece would sound less bland if treated with the same intensity but in a more forthright, unvarnished manner. The perfumed, romantic approach makes Prokofievsound like a minor French salon composer. The way the finale theme sidles in, for example, reminds us that the rhythm if not the notes are similar to the finale of the Franck Violin Sonata.

At the start of the Shostakovich the gentle phrasing of the cello over rippling, dappled piano figuration rather reminded me of Fauré, not the sort of comparison normally evoked by Shostakovich. The highly poetic treatment of the second theme is self-communing in a rather narcissistic way – from both players – and this too evokes twilight romanticism rather than a bleak Russian landscape. The furious outburst of the second movement is terrific, yet wherever possible it shifts emphasis to speak of luscious enjoyment rather than terror. Thus warmed up, Shostakovich sounds strangely similar to Respighi.

The Largo is perhaps more “traditional” in approach. Maisky for once concentrates on long lines rather than exquisitely manicured short ones and the tension built up is palpable. Yet at the end, Argerich’s chords seem to speak of consolation, something which Shostakovich’s bleak world normally excludes. The earlier stages of the finale have their grotesque contours elegantly face-lifted but the end is terrific.

As an encore we have a Prokofiev waltz given in the style of Kreisler playing “Schön Rosmarin”.

For fans of these artists, and of great piano playing per se, this issue is self-recommending. Those who don’t actually like Stravinsky, Prokofiev or Shostakovich may think it all absolutely lovely and wonder why this music doesn’t usually sound half so nice. It is not, I think, a disc to buy just for the composers themselves. Out of fairness I should point out that the disc was originally reviewed – it is not new – by Colin Clarke who marvelled at the players’ artistry as much as I did but did not feel the need to call into question their interpretative approach.

Christopher Howell 

see also Review by Colin Clarke



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