Martha Argerich - The Collection 4, complete Philips recordings
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Concerto for Piano no 3 in D minor, Op. 30 (1909) [40:19]
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
rec. live, December 1982, Sender Freies, Berlin, Germany
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Concerto for Piano no 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23 [32:21]
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Kiril Kondrashin
rec. live, February 1980, Bavarian Radio Studios, Munich, Germany
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Carnival of the animals (1886) [23:45]
Mischa Maisky (cello), Isabelle van Keulen (violin), Nelson Freire (piano),
Martha Argerich (piano), Gidon Kremer (violin)
Alan RIDOUT (1935-1996)
Ferdinand the Bull [10:41]
Elena Bashkirova (spoken vocals), Gidon Kremer (violin)
Frieder MESCHWITZ (1936-1983)
Gidon Kremer (violin), Elena Bashkirova (piano), Elena Bashkirova (spoken vocals)
Little Sad Sound [11:32]
Alois Posch (double-bass), Gidon Kremer (violin)
rec. Munich, April 1985 (Carnival), April 1981 and January 1987 (Little Sad Sound)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Sonata for Arpeggione in A minor, D 821 (1824) [25:52]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Phantasiestücke (3) for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 73 (1849) [10:07]
Stücke (5) im Volkston for Cello and Piano, Op. 102 (1849) [17:10]
Martha Argerich (piano), Mischa Maisky (cello)
rec. January 1984, La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Suite for 2 Pianos no 2, Op. 17 (1900-01) [20:33]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
La valse (1920) [11:08]
Witold LUTOSLAWSKI (1913-1994)
Variations on a theme of Paganini for 2 Pianos (1941) [5:08]
rec. August 1982, La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Sonata for 2 Pianos and Percussion, Sz 110 (1937) [26:38]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Andante and Variations (5) for Piano 4 hands in G major, K 501 (1786) [7:21]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
En blanc et noir (1915) [15:14]
Martha Argerich (piano), Stephen Kovacevich (piano)
Willy Goudswaard, Michel de Roo (percussion, Bartók)
rec. May 1977, Wembley Tow Hall (Debussy) and Watford Town Hall
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Concerto for 2 Pianos, Percussion and Orchestra, Sz 115 (1940) [27:01]
Zoltán KODÁLY (1862-1967)
Dances of Galánta (1933) [16:02]
Martha Argerich (piano), Nelson Freire (piano),
Jan Pustjens, Jan Labordus (percussion)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/David Zinman
rec. August 1985, Grote Zaal, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
DECCA 478 2746 [6 CDs: 72:40 + 62:17 + 53:09 + 36:49 + 49:13 + 43:03]
This set presents all of the recordings made with Martha Argerich for the Philips label, and is part of a series of collections, of which there are reviews of Volume 2 and Volume 3. Argerich’s quote “I have a great need for company while I am on the [concert] platform” is reflected in a series of recordings made after she more or less retreated from solo performance in the early 1980s, and the variety of collaborations and breadth of repertoire in this box make it a very attractive prospect indeed. Not only is this a marvellous collection of music, but the production has expended the extra effort of giving us replica LP or CD sleeve covers for each disc; right down to the original LP notes on the back of some, which can be read if your eyesight is up to following the tiny lettering. I’ve long had one or two of these recordings in my collection, as who has not, but I don't really come to this review with a baggage of sentimental associations or memories of revelatory Argerich-associated revelations. I do however retain memories of the special aura that many of these recordings always seem to have had as something ‘special’, both with the albums on my dangerously heavy shelves of LPs, and gleaned from the opinions of those with whom I’ve worked in the music business over the years. These recordings have been re-released in numerous forms over the years, so it may pay to check your own library in advance of acquiring this box.
The first disc compiles more than one LP source onto a single CD which was originally released in 1995. The Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3 is a tremendous live performance with Argerich on top form, and Riccardo Chailly getting a convincingly Russian sound from his Berlin players. All of the vibrancy of a live performance is here, with a few audience coughs for added realism, but even with the occasional variance in terms of vertical ensemble this is a recording whose treasured reputation is fully justified. The sheer passion in the playing is a strong element, and that piano entry in the central Adagio movement always gives me Goosebumps. The work’s variety of moods are all exploited to maximum effect, from dancing variations to warmly poignant expressiveness. Perhaps we’ve heard more flexible or more tightly disciplined orchestras in this concerto, but all of the elements combined still make this a classic performance, and the Finale is a real event, with the full range of ecstatic outpourings and quirky thematic sculpting and no points glossed-over or missed. This recording has also been reviewed here on MWI in its appearance with the Suite No.2. Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 makes for a good coupling, with Argerich’s solo unapologetically symphonic. This is a less up-front and detailed recording, with quieter passages sometimes sounding a bit vague and recessed in the orchestra, to the detriment of those exquisite melodies in the second movement for instance. This is still a potent performance however. I’ve never been a huge fan of this concerto, with its top-heavy and rather meandering first movement, but Argerich argues its case with emphatic conviction, and Kondrashin provides sufficient fuoco to the last movement to carry her magnificent playing.
Saint-Saëns’ Carnaval des Animaux is a delight from beginning to end in this all-star recording, with everyone pulling out all the stops to make the animals come to life as much as possible, to the point of occasional ‘mis-use’ from some of the instruments. The squawking hens and braying wild asses are great fun, and you can literally feel the motion of the slower beasts such as the Tortoises and the great weight of the elephant. The Pianists are gloriously unsynchronised, with Argerich and Freire joyously re-creating all of the faults every teacher will have heard thousands of times – it brings tears of laughter to my eyes every time. With Mischa Maisky’s beautiful Swan and everyone on sparkling form this is a ‘must have’ for any collection. The couplings are unusual to say the least, but all highly engaging. Gidon Kremer’s descriptive violin playing is ideal for Alan Ridout’s tale of Ferdinand, the bull who liked to just sit and smell the flowers, with Elena Bashkirova as a rather idiomatic but highly effective narrator. They exchange roles part of the time for Frieder Meschewitz’s lovely Tier-Gebete or ‘Animals’ Prayers’, with in Kremer resonant and expressive good form. The texts are only really understandable if you speak German, but there’s enough over-acting for us to get the main message. Bashkirova does animals which seem to demand a female voice, such as the mouse and the cat, the latter in fine Berlin cabaret style. This unique programme is topped off with another narrative piece by Alan Ridout, Little Sad Sound, with fine double-bass playing from Alois Posch placed in a rather indistinct bathroom-sounding recording, and Kremer in fairly incomprehensible Professor Heinz Wolff-a-like English.
Martha Argerich’s regular collaborations with cellist Mischa Maisky have generated numerous very fine recordings, and the warm expressiveness in Schubert’s Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano in A minor comes in part from the equality of legato line coming from both the cello and the piano. The renowned sparkling energy from these two is expressed more in the witty musical exchanges Schubert integrates into more sprightly movements in his score, but the directness of expression in those tender moments and that beautiful Adagio can only come from a deep wellspring of understanding and that permanent feeling of potential explosiveness communicated by the best of artists. A more direct emotional charge comes from Schumann’s Fantasiestücke Op.73. Like the Schubert, this music is still anchored in lines which take their scale from song and the human voice, but here with those depths which come from a certain amount of weltschmerz and a more overt outpouring of heightened emotions. These are all things which come through in this duo’s performance, added to an unmistakable sense of sheer pleasure in the playing and a grand sense of humour in the first of the 5 Stücke im Volkston.
Martha Argerich’s close musical synergy with Nelson Freire has rarely been heard to better effect that in the tremendously exhilarating recording they made of Rachmaninov’s Suite No.2 Op.17. The Introduction and Waltz movements achieve a momentum and technical integrity which has your brain running to keep up, whooping and hollering with joy the whole time. There is real poetry in the Romance, the lyrical lines seeming to extend endlessly, like timelessly intertwining loops of musical DNA. Side 1 of your old LP ended with that Tarantella; another one of those headlong but sparkling movements which manages to mix Russian minor-key ‘soul’ with an incomparable lust for life. The 2 piano transcription of Maurice Ravel’s La Valse continues this sense of the dance, but in Ravel’s case the psychology goes even deeper, disturbing with a strong element of madness within that ‘apotheosis of the Viennese waltz.’ The virtuoso spectacle is capped with Lutoslawski’s showpiece, Variations on a Theme of Paganini, which takes the technical extremes of that violinist/composer and hits that famous theme with a brief essay in extravagant pianistic impact.
Martha Argerich’s only official recording together with her former husband Steven Bishop Kovacevich has been reviewed in its ‘Originals’ re-release format with its few added extras, and I find myself in agreement with most of Leslie Wright’s comments. The Bartók Sonata for 2 Pianos and Percussion does show its age a little, with some opacity on peak levels in the sound of which there are many. This is however a vital and powerful performance and a recording which remains a justifiable favourite, with plenty of detail and a great atmosphere which no-one should miss. Another almost surprise hit is Mozart’s Andante and Variations for Piano 4 hands in G major, K 501, showing the great sensitivity and intimate and innate expression which both pianists brought to this kind of deceptively simple sounding music. Debussy’s often darkly explosive En blanc et noir is a terrific vehicle for this duo’s virtuosic abilities, showing the vast range and unity of colour they were both capable of obtaining. One can only regret they didn’t make more recordings than this one strikingly good disc.
The final CD, a bit like the 2 piano Rachmaninov programme on CD 2, was always a bit skimpy on timing, but the recording of Bartók’s Concerto for 2 Pianos, Percussion and Orchestra, pretty much a revision of the sonata on the previous disc, is still one of the best ever made. The same pianistic synergy which makes that Rachmaninov Suite so special is also highly in evidence here, with Argerich and Nelson Freire like one very dextrous eight-handed performer. The balance of the recording is arguably stacked a little too much against the main body of the orchestra, which hides a little behind pianos and percussion when both are going at once, but this is not a major issue. Just turn up the volume a little, put on the Lento ma non troppo, and wait for the stars to start forming on the night sky of your imagination – and did that final Allegro ma non troppo finale ever sound quite so luminous? Kodály’s justly popular Dances of Galánta forms a fittingly impassioned orchestral epilogue to this whole set in another very fine performance from the Amsterdam Concertgebouw.
We’re surrounded these days by vast quantities of whizz-kid musical and technical talent, and a steady stream of young players is brought forth by record labels and concert promoters for our delectation. Now 70, Martha Argerich is an artist whose recorded legacy will retain its value whatever comes along, one very good reason for not weighing this review down with dozens of comparisons. Her own nurturing of new talent through the Martha Argerich Project has its own impact on the quality of today’s music scene. Produced with a nice booklet and decent notes by Jed Distler, this fine collection of recordings and classic performances deserves a place in anyone’s collection.
Deserves a place in anyone’s collection – classic in every sense.