The Sound of Martha Argerich
CD 1
Robert SCHUMANN (1910-1856)
Piano Concerto in A Minor Allegro Affettuoso [13:38]
Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Concerto No.2 in F Minor Larghetto [8:52]
Piano Concerto No.1 In E Rondo (Vivace) [9:19]
Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Piano Concerto No. 3, Sz.119, I. Allegretto [7:24]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Concerto No. 3, Finale [9:48]
Manuel DE FALLA (1876-1946)
Noches En Los Jardines De España, En La Generalife [10:01]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings, Iii. Moderato – Finale [8:21]
CD 2
Kinderszenen [18:11]
Frederic CHOPIN
Scherzo No. 3 in C Sharp Minor, Op.39 [7:09]
Polonaise No. 6 in A Flat, Op.53 'heroic' [6:36]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream Ouverture [10:40]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Réminiscences de Don Juan S656 [15:30]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Ma Mère L’Oye – suite [14 :26]
Witold LUTOSLAWSKI (1913-1994)
Variations on a Theme by Paganini for Two Pianos [5:45]
CD 3
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Trio in G Major, Hob.Xv ‘Gypsy’ [15:21]
Piano Quintet in Eb Major [27:53]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Cello Sonata [11:06]
Leos JANÁčEK (1854-1928)
Concertino [15:26]
Martha Argerich (piano)
CD 1 Schumann: rec. 21 June 2002, De Falla and Shostakovich: 11 June 2009 (live), Orchestra Della Svizzera Italiana, Chopin: rec. 29-31 October 1998, Prokofiev : 1997, Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal/Charles Dutoit.
CD 2 Schumann: rec. 24 June 2007 (live), Lugano, Chopin: 1965, Abbey Road Studio I, London, Mendelssohn with Cristina Marton and Liszt with Mauricio Vallina, rec. 27 June 2009, Ravel, 15 June 2007 with Alexander Mogilewsky and Lutoslawski, 22 June 2003, Lugano with Giorgia Tomassi
CD 3 Haydn: rec. 10 June 2003, Lugano with Renaud Capuçon (violin), Gautier Capuçon (cello), Schumann, 27 June 2002, Lugano with Renaud Capuçon and Dora Schwarzberg (violin), Nora Romanoff-Schwarzberg (viola), Mark Drobinsky (cello); Debussy 29-31 December 1981, Geneva with Mischa Maisky; Janacek: rec. 17 June 2008, Lugano, with Lucia Hall and Alissa Margulis (violins), Nora Romanoff-Schwarzberg (viola), Corrado Giuffredi (clarinet), Zora Slokar (horn), Vincent Godel (bassoon)
EMI CLASSICS 0 94618 2 [3 CDs: 67:46 + 78: 42 + 67:46]

This is an odd collection at first glance. With plenty of Martha Argerich ‘Collection’ boxes out from both Deutsche Grammophon and EMI it would seem to be a bit redundant to have a compilation like this, but DG have their ‘The Martha Argerich Story’ 3 CD compilation so EMI no doubt felt they couldn’t be outdone. With only Disc 1 presenting ‘bleeding chunks’ of a variety of concertos there is in fact plenty of intriguing stuff taken from her Lugano Project on the remaining CDs.

CD 1 needn’t detain us too long, and I would advise anyone to look at either of the concerto collections now available with these works in their complete form. This disc starts an athletic first movement from Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Argerich ever full of pushing rubato and gripping excitement. There are two Chopin movements, the Larghetto from the Piano Concerto No.2 showing the floating melodies from her more tender side, and a punchy, sometimes combative and often witty Finale from the Piano Concerto No.1. Argerich is always special in Bartók, and she is whippy and flexible in the Allegretto of the Piano Concerto No.3. Her Prokofiev is masculine and percussive, though in these latter recordings the piano is if anything a tad too low in the balance – something you won’t hear me say often. Manuel de Falla’s less familiar Noches En Los Jardines De España is atmospheric in a recent recording of which I would like to hear more, and with two out of the four movements of a keenly observed live recording of Shostakovich’s Concerto No.1 we’re left begging for the complete piece, which means ‘good job EMI’.

I am presuming all of the recordings here are also part of the EMI Classics Martha Argerich Edition though their website lists works and not composers so tracing each piece is a pain in the neck. In any case there’s no mention of recordings exclusive to this set alone. These substantial box sets are all available at very reasonable prices so once again we’re in something akin to sampler land, though thankfully with complete works rather than orphaned movements. What this collection does is gather together the scale and variety of Argerich’s musicianship in terms of repertoire and context: solo, chamber and orchestral. Her poetry of touch is clear from the recording of Kinderszenen, which has all the verve of a live recording while not skimping on the most essential expressive points. Heroic and youthful, the Chopin Scherzo No. 3 and Polonaise No.6 come from slightly dry sounding Abbey Road recordings in 1965; you can sense the fervent atmosphere of classical and pop legends being created on a daily basis in that place at that time. The rest of disc 2 is made up of some magnificent piano duo or duet performances from the Martha Argerich Project in Lugano. The overture to Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is always a refreshing work, and while this recording is a bit of a bash at times it is also great fun and full of inner life. Liszt’s Réminiscences de Don Juan for two pianos is orchestral in its majesty in the opening Grave, and the musicians create a suitably poetic feel while at the same time imparting the warm good humour and wit in much of the writing. Ravel’s Ma Mère L'Oye is always a big favourite, though here it can be a bit over pedalled and fussy in terms of rubato. Still, the playing is sympathetic and expressive, accurately descriptive and suitably spectacular in the relatively few places the score demands. Lutoslawski’s tremendous Variations on a Theme by Paganini is best known from Argerich’s recording with Nelson Freire on the Philips label and recently included in volume 4 of the DG/Decca ‘collection’ series. This live performance comes in almost identical in terms of timing and is well on par in terms of sheer energetic brilliance, so is very well worth having in this set.

CD 3 also comes up with plenty of excellent goodies and complete performances, mostly from Lugano. The Haydn ‘Gypsy’ Piano Trio is very stylish and transparent. The opening Andante is perhaps a little nervy, but I particularly like the expressive restraint of the central Poco adagio and the unrestrained abandon of the Presto finale. Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E flat op.44 is also very fine – vibrant and exciting, and though the strings are sometimes less well integrated than another favourite live performance, that in Carnegie Hall with the Alban Berg Quartet and Philippe Entremont also on EMI, they can also be more intense. This performance is full of blistering passion and very well worth hearing, but doesn’t really deal a killer blow to Entremont or Marc-André Hamelin and the Takács Quartet on Hyperion (see review). The Debussy Cello Sonata with Mischa Maisky is an early 1980s favourite, though the recording sounds bit confined nowadays. Argerich’s musical relationship with Maisky resulted in numerous fine recordings and this is one of the classics, full of narrative intrigue and eccentric Gallic character. A later discovery for Argerich and the highlight of this collection, Janáček’s Concertino is a remarkable piece and this is a strikingly remarkable performance. Argerich creates entire worlds from the composer’s sparse notation, and her young colleagues in this recording generate an electric atmosphere. Corrado Giuffri’s reedy clarinet sound is in my opinion perfect for this dose of improbable Czech anarchy, and in terms of rhythmic bluster and Janáček’s signature moments of utter expressive extremes the whole team has this music nailed.

To sum up; this remains a bit of an anachronistic box and entirely unnecessary if you plan on doing the right thing and collecting the entire EMI ‘Edition’ series of box sets. This is the kind of set with which one might think of introducing an acquaintance with Martha Argerich’s breadth of repertoire and brilliance of musicianship, and it’s certainly nice enough to have as a condensed compilation of ‘good bits’ from the EMI recordings if you don’t plan on splashing out on the complete edition. CD 1 isn’t of much use to anyone however, so that would put me off personally – I’m not a fan of single movement titbits in any context. What is marvellous to hear is how much superb musicianship has come from the Lugano project, and Argerich’s own potent contribution in recent years through these concerts.

Dominy Clements

Full of good things, but then, so is the EMI Edition.