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Mischa Maisky and Martha Argerich in concert
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Pulcinella (1920) – Suite italienne (arr. Stravinsky/Piatigorsky, 1932) [17’36].
Serge PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 119 (1949) [23’28]. The Stone Flower (1948) – Waltz (arr. Piatigorsky/Knushevitsky) [2’16].
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)

Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 40 (1934) [25’40].
Mischa Maisky (cello); Martha Argerich (piano).
Rec. Live rec. from Flagey Hall, Brussels, in April 2003. DDD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 5323 [72’22]

Following her magnificent live accounts of Beethoven Concertos Nos. 2 and 3 with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra under Abbado, here DG gives us an opportunity to hear Argerich the accompanist. She has enjoyed a chamber partnership with Mischa Maisky for a while now, and their musical closeness shows.

The violin/piano arrangement of numbers from Stravinsky’s neo-classical ballet Pulcinella is well-known, the Stravinsky/Piatigorsky arrangement perhaps less so. Maisky and Argerich have you ask why. Beginning in the most exuberant fashion imaginable, this is a performance that pits energy - a hectic Tarantella - against tenderness (Serenata) and good old fun (the finale). The Minuetto that leads into the finale is notable for Argerich’s beautiful shaping of the theme at the very beginning – this is no mere marking of time until Maisky enters. The rhythmic play of the finale is enjoyed to the full by both players, the cheers from the audience at the end completely justified. Interestingly, there is one second less applause after Pulcinella than there was for when the artists entered – I am sure this is not significant!.

The meat of the recital is, of course the sonatas by Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Prokofiev comes first; maybe it was originally planned as second, because the booklet notes treat the two sonatas in reverse order. And a real ‘first’ it is, too. This was Argerich’s first complete public performance of the work, and there is a real concentration from both pianist and cellist that brings the piece to life, from Maisky’s thoughtfully soliloquizing opening onwards. There is real tension brought about around 2’35 onwards, at which point Argerich seems intent on breaking fully free to bask in Prokofiev’s openly lyric stance. In fact the many moods of this movement are conveyed in bright colours, none less so than the manic passage around 9’50, with Maisky pouring superhuman energy into his arpeggiations, against Argerich’s bell-like tolling chords.

How great a contrast, then, is the witty slapstick of the central Moderato, and how carefully timed is the sudden lyricism at 2’03 - just the right amount. The finale includes a moment of real pianissimo magic; around three minutes in.

Shostakovich’s Sonata of 1934 is a work that explores the composer’s interior side. Appropriately, then, this account begins almost tentatively. Both players are completely immersed in this intense music. Because of their combined concentration, they can take risks with tempo that, without exception, are successful, all of which puts the ultra-manic Allegro that follows into high relief. Argerich’s repeated notes simply have to be heard! This is live music making caught on the wing. The numbness of the Largo though is surely the most memorable aspect of this performance. Try the ultra-delicate, completely stripped bare passage around 5’10. The teasing finale takes us into another world, contrasts underlined here, wit to the fore.

Certainly a whole Universe away from Peter Wispelwey and Dejan Lazic’s recent Wigmore Monday lunchtime recital, which pitted the mighty Prokofiev and Shostakovich against each other, rather less successfully ).

Argerich once more teases the listener in the encore, a tiny Waltz from Prokofiev’s Stone Flower. The listener is certainly kept on his/her toes in this delightful morceau.

A magnificent triumph for all concerned including the recording team of Producer Sid McLaughlin and Engineer Stephan Flock, who have managed to convey all the atmosphere of a live event with the utmost clarity. My disc of the month.

Colin Clarke

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