This disc begins with twenty-one seconds of separately
tracked applause from the expectant Kyoto audience in November 2000.
A simulacrum of concert-going for the record buyer or sheer immodesty?
I have seldom heard a disc of such numbing and predictable self-indulgence
as this miserable example. Hardly a single movement retains any semblance
of architectural integrity, there is no sense of arching momentum, and
everything is broken-backed and subjected to wilful and narcissistic
displays of temperament. The tempo fluctuations in the Allegro moderato
of the Chopin are so damaging to the fabric of the movement that it’s
a wonder that two such eminent musicians could find it in themselves
to inflict such grammatical solecisms on the work. Maisky, who is worse
even than Argerich in this respect, tries to inject some heightened
expressivity at 13.20 but the attempt sounds spurious and calculated
and his all-purpose, generic tonal resources are profoundly unattractive.
The Largo predictably congeals in a haze of self-regarding and spineless
playing. The Franck’s opening movement, especially considering its rhapsodic
profile, is far too slow, the playing lurches from bar to bar, there
is ridiculous leaning on notes and abstracted point making to no structural
or expressive purpose. Argerich begins the Allegro with playing that
redefines the phrase over-accented, and at 7.40 at a witheringly fast
tempo all semblance of clarity of articulation vanishes. The Allegretto
is furthermore badly balanced and the end of the movement approximate
– to put it kindly. The less said about the Debussy the better. Maisky’s
handling of the pizzicato passage in which he outrageously bends the
strings and abandons any pretence at even bar by bar playing is just
one the many egregious horrors inflicted on a work which thrives on
flexibility through structural cogency. To retain some vestige of sanity
I played the 1930 recording by Maurice Marechal and Robert Casadesus
– the fact that at under ten minutes they are more than two minutes
quicker than Maisky and Argerich is significant only inasmuch as the
tempo relationships are properly maintained, phrasing is flexible but
controlled and expressive pointing is at the service of the music and
not of themselves. To complete the misery there is a "Mischa and
Martha" booklet note written by the cellist’s wife.
Terry Barfoot has also listened to this recording
Deutsche Grammophon rightly make much of the pedigree
of these famous artists, but to place the them at the heart of the production
of a CD, with the composers left in the far distance, seems mistaken.
There is precious little documentation about the music performed here,
but rather a lot about the artists performing it.
They have recorded the Franck and Debussy pieces before,
in the studio for EMI, back in 1981 (CDM7 63577-2). There is little
to choose between the two discs, to be fair, because both have good
recorded sound and the performers play as well as you would expect.
The phrasing and rubato are more indulgent in the recent live performances,
which is also what you might expect. However, this is to the extent
that some listeners, especially those who have preconceptions about
how the music should sound, might accuse Maisky, in particular, of indulgence.
The Franck Sonata was conceived for the violin, of
course, but it is often performed on the cello and cellists would not
want to be without it. The arrangement works well enough, since the
key remains A major, but it would have been helpful to have some indications
in the documentation of the implications of using the cello instead
of the violin. Instead the notes read like the kind of puffy, publicity-driven
interview with the artists, which too often fill the pages of the monthly
magazines. Here today, gone tomorrow, that sort of thing; so why include
so much of it with a CD which aims for a longer shelf-life?
Since Franck's Sonata is a rhapsodic composition, Maisky's
tendency towards indulgences of tempi is appropriate enough, at face
value at any rate. But it must be said that there are sometimes extremes
involved, even though Argerich goes sensitively with him. The same might
be said of the Chopin Sonata, a sophisticated piece written towards
the end of the composer's life, whose characteristics are deeply felt
here. Once again Maisky's tendency to over-indulge does rob the music
of some of its inner tension.
The Debussy performance gives much pleasure, and there
is a freshness about the recording which captures the special intensity
of the occasion. With artists such as these, there are many insights
into the music, but none of these performances is a first choice recommendation.