Martha Argerich at the Verbier Festival Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 19 (1793-1795) [29:24]
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757) Sonata in D minor, K.141 (?1749) [3:35]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor, Op. 35* (1933) [23:07]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875) Symphony in C (1855) [29:20]
Martha Argerich (piano)
David Guerrier (trumpet)*
Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra/Gábor Takács-Nagy
rec. live, Verbier Festival, Switzerland, 22 July 2010 (Beethoven; Scarlatti), 17 July 2010 (Shostakovich; Bizet)
Directors: Philippe Béziat (Beethoven; Scarlatti) Anaďs Spiro (Shostakovich; Bizet)
Picture format: 16:9/1080i Full HD
Sound: PCM stereo only
Region: 0 (worldwide)
EUROARTS/IDÉALE AUDIENCE 3079564
In its short life the Verbier Festival – founded in 1994 – has
become one of the major events in the musical calendar. The
Argentine pianist Martha Argerich has been around a lot longer
– she turned 69 a month before this concert was recorded – and
has made Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto and Prokofiev’s
Third her signature pieces; she’s recorded both works several
times, to much acclaim. That said, I’ve seen her Salzburg performance
of the Beethoven Triple Concerto from two years earlier – review
– and was disappointed by the waywardness of it all. She has
borne up under a heroic battle against cancer, advancing years
and a growing number of cancelled concerts – she has just pulled
out of the 2011 BBC Proms. All this might suggest her career
is all but over.
But goodness, she certainly has a following, as the enthusiastic
applause confirms. In the Beethoven she sits patiently waiting
for the long orchestral introduction to pass, occasionally miming
the beat as she does. It’s a strangely endearing quirk which,
for all its eccentricity, doesn’t detract from what proves to
be remarkably fluent, youthful-sounding Allegro. More important,
there’s no sign of decreased dexterity in the trills and dances
of this movement, which strikes a good balance between Classical
delicacy and Romantic ardour. The orchestra takes its cue from
conductor Gábor Takács-Nagy, whose hyperactive manner appears
to galvanise them at every turn.
The high-definition picture is very sharp, the sound – in PCM
stereo only – rather dry and close. Still, there’s plenty of
detail and weight, the piano being quite well caught. Camera-work
is generally discreet, although the constant close-ups add a
degree of claustrophobia to what appears to be a fairly confined
performance area. It all sounds a little too overbearing in
the Adagio, which rather lacks poetry. Those used to a lighter
HIP sound will find this movement hard going; even Argerich
seems less spontaneous here. Takács-Nagy’s tempi and phrasing
are much too lumpen for my liking.
Fortunately everyone perks up in the Rondo. Argerich dashes
off those delectable dance tunes with obvious delight. She really
does look like a wacky wiccan at times, and there’s no denying
she makes magic in the outer movements of this concerto. Her
audience responds with enthusiasm. I say ‘her’ audience as these
festival appearances are rather like intimate soirées,
the master – or mistress – surrounded by their adoring disciples.
If that sounds churlish, it isn’t meant to; this may be an uneven
performance but it’s a perfectly serviceable one. As for the
high-def sound, it picks up all sorts of extraneous noises,
including occasional humming and unwelcome resonance from the
The encore, Scarlatti’s K.141, begins before the hall has quietened
down; but what unfolds is just astonishing. It’s a seemingly
effortless, effervescent reading, the piece dispatched with
such aplomb. Most remarkable is the crystalline quality of Argerich’s
playing, sharply characterised but without a trace of hardness.
These are qualities one might look for in the cheeky Allegretto
of the Shostakovich concerto, which is given a darker cast
than usual. I miss the subversive wit, that mischievous twinkle
in the eye, that others find in this music. And good as it is,
David Guerrier’s trumpet playing is also a tad sober for my
And it just gets worse; Takács-Nagy’s tempi for the Lento are
unpardonably sluggish, the orchestra coagulating around Argerich’s
ponderous playing. Any attempt to inject extra gravitas here
– if that’s the intention – is fundamentally misguided, as this
lifeless reading so amply demonstrates. Bizarre is the only
word for it and the Moderato-Allegro is even less inspired.
If you’re easily distracted by podium prancers the conductor’s
almost continuous gurning will surely test your patience. Also,
there’s an audible overhang from the piano at one point which,
in a less muddied performance, would be even more obvious. All
very messy, I’m afraid.
Given that peculiar experience I didn’t hold out much hope for
the ‘bonus’ item, a performance of Bizet’s Symphony in C.
The Allegro vivo is pleasing enough, although Takács-Nagy
does make the piece sound more like Beethoven than Bizet. Rhythms
are reasonably supple throughout and tempi are well judged,
but there’s a Schweizerdeutsch seriousness to this performance,
which lacks the Gallic charm one associates with Ansermet for
instance. Again, a perfectly serviceable account of a well-known
work, but not very memorable.
That pretty much sums up this disc. And despite good visuals
the closely miked PCM sound falls well short of what we’ve come
to expect from the best Blu-Rays.
Strictly for Argerich fans, I’m afraid.
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