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Martha Argerich - Music for Two Pianos
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
1. Suite from The Nutcracker Op. 71a (1892) [21.51], transc. Nicolas Economou
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
2. Suite No. 2 Op. 17 for two pianos (1900-01) [21.38]
3. Six Morceaux Op. 11 for piano four hands (1894) [23.12]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
4. Sonata in F minor Op. 34b for two pianos (1864?) [38.35]
5. Variations on a theme by Haydn Op. 56b for two pianos (1873) [15.09]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
6. Symphony No. 1 in D “Classical” Op.25 (1916-17) [13.22] transc. Rikuya Terashima
Witold LUTOSLAWSKI (1913-1994)
7. Variations on a Theme by Paganini for two pianos (1941) [5.44]
Martha Argerich (piano - all), 2nd piano: Mirabela Dina (1), Gabriela Montero (2), Lilya Zilberstein 3,4), Polina Leschenko (5) Yefim Bronfman (6) Giorgia Tomassi (7)
rec. live in concert, Auditorio Stelio Molo, Lugano, Switzerland, June 2002 (4), June 2003 (1-3,7), June 2004 (6) and June 2005 (5), 2 CD set, DDD
Booklet in English, German and French
EMI CLASSICS 2076232 [69.41 + 76.38]
Experience Classicsonline

It is very difficult to write about a pianist of Martha Argerich’s stature without sounding repetitive. Numerous articles have been written about her artistry and brilliance; torrents of words have been poured all over the papers and the internet in an attempt to describe her virtuoso performances, so to be given her latest EMI release for review is as much of a delight as it is a challenge.
 
This two CD set is not only about Argerich. It is a marvellous compilation of a variety of pieces transcribed or specifically written for two pianos by different composers. What they all have in common is the fact that each work was performed and recorded live, though in different years, during the Lugano Music Festival, as part of the “Progetto Martha Argerich”, which has become a tradition. The project, now in its seventh consecutive year, takes place in June and celebrates the artistry of virtuoso pianist Martha Argerich in collaboration with other great pianists, some already well established artists; others at the beginning of their careers. Supporting and nurturing new talent is something close to Argerich’s heart. She has invested a great deal of time in promoting emerging musicians with as much commitment and dedication as she puts into her own performances.
 
The first CD begins with Tchaikovsky’s Suite from the Nutcracker, which he composed before completing the entire ballet, according to some sources, or just after the ballet’s first production in 1892, as stated by others. Whichever is true, the fact is that it is famous, independently of the ballet, and often makes concert hall programmes as a piece in its own right. Tchaikovsky also wrote a shorter version for piano but while the Suite from the Nutcracker is wonderful in its orchestral format, due to the composer’s brilliant orchestration and wide variety of beautiful themes, the piano version has never achieved the same degree of recognition. Arguably, Tchaikovsky was not as insightful with the piano as he was with the orchestra, which could be the reason. Cleverly, Martha Argerich chose here to perform the transcription for two pianos by the great Cypriot pianist Nicolas Economou who managed to capture much of the magic of Tchaikovsky’s original piece for the orchestra. She teams up with the young, gifted Romanian pianist Mirabela Dina (b. 1976). The result is as delightful as it is virtuosic. The experienced mature execution of Argerich perfectly merges with Dina’s vivacious, at times playful rendition, wonderfully capturing the innocent, childlike character of the piece. The two pianos appear almost as one when together, and in harmonious, joyful dialogue when conversing with each other. Simply brilliant and uplifting, setting very high standards indeed for the remainder of the compilation.
 
The second and third pieces, following Tchaikovsky, are both from Rachmaninov, himself an outstanding pianist. The first, the Suite No. 2 for two pianos, he composed when still in his twenties but his mastery of the instrument is patent throughout the piece. It contains beautifully lyrical melodies that alternate with colourful, complex passages and, as with most of Rachmaninov’s piano compositions, it requires pianists with a great sensitive understanding of the instrument as well as virtuosic ability. No better collaboration could be found than this one between Argerich and Venezuelan-born virtuoso Gabriela Montero (b.1970), celebrated worldwide for her fabulous improvisations on stage upon melodies given her by the audience. It is difficult to describe in words the effect of these two pianists performing this marvellous piece. They create a crystal clear sound that infiltrates the skin and leaves you breathless. One cannot just read about it; one must experience it and the only way is to listen to this recording in all its glory. I must say that it was my favourite piece of the entire album and that I felt envious of the audience who witnessed such a great performance.
 
For the second Rachmaninov composition, which completes CD 1, Six Morceaux for piano four hands, as well as for the first of CD 2, Johannes Brahms’ Sonata in F minor for two pianos, Argerich teams up with Russian pianist Lilya Zilberstein. Like Argerich she was a winner of the prestigious Ferrucio Busoni International Piano Competition. Born in 1965, Zilberstein can no longer be counted as a young emerging talent. She is undoubtedly a gifted, established pianist and her two collaborations with Argerich, recorded here, clearly demonstrate her qualities. The execution of these two duets is equally wonderful and compelling, revealing both pianists’ technical mastery as well as their sensitive but vivacious approach. Personally, I prefer the Brahms, which in this performance reveals great comprehension of the composer’s romanticism particularly during the fourth movement, entitled Finale, which lasts approximately ten minutes and is simply glorious.
 
Coincidence or purpose, I do not know, however it is interesting that this two CD set is almost entirely an all-female affair where the pianists are concerned. The only male interpreter is Russian-Israeli Yefim Bronfman (b.1958), who like Argerich hardly needs an introduction. He is an established artist, with a distinguished, illustrious career, perhaps better known for his recitals with Isaac Stern in 1991 and his Grammy Award-winning recording of the three Bartók piano concertos with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Finnish conductor/composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, in 1997. Salonen dedicated his piano concerto to him and Bronfman premiered it, in January 2007, with the New York Philharmonic under the composer’s baton. He also performed it at the European premiere of the piece during the BBC Proms in the same year. His collaboration with Argerich is here on a fantastic transcription for two pianos by Rikuya Terashima (b.1964, Tokyo) of Prokofiev’s wonderful Symphony No. 1, the “Classical”. The teaming up of two of the greatest pianists in the world at present, brings to life a duet of rare achievement that does full justice to Prokofiev’s original.
 
Finally, there are two sets of variations, which are as wonderful as they are popular. The first is Brahms’ Variations on a theme by Haydn, Op. 56b, which he wrote specifically for two pianos. The second is Witold Lutoslawski’s Variations on a theme by Paganini, also for two pianos, which is perhaps slightly less known than Rachmaninov’s version for piano and orchestra. It is no less beautiful or difficult to perform. Argerich collaborates here with two slightly less famous but extremely gifted young pianists. For the Brahms, she plays with Russian wonder-girl Polina Leschenko (b.1981) and for the Lutoslawski with Italy’s Giorgia Tomassi whose interpretation of Chopin’s Études released by EMI in 1997 won her enthusiastic critical acclaim. Both Brahms’ Haydn Variations and Lutoslawski’s Paganini Variations are near perfect in execution, creating two of the most exciting musical moments of this two CD set; producing duets of great accomplishment and rare sensibility.
 
This compilation of live recordings of Argerich’s collaborations with other great pianists represents work of exquisite beauty. The fact that all pieces are for two pianos does not in any way mean that the effect is monotonous. On the contrary, one forgets there is no orchestra because the music is delivered with a similar intense, glorious sound even in compositions that were not originally written for two pianos.
 
This two CD set is a must-have, not only for the wonderful pieces from some of the greatest composers that ever lived but also for the fact that one seldom encounters so many illustrious names recorded live for posterity in a single set.
 
Margarida Mota-Bull
 

 


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