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Martha Argerich and Friends: Live from the Lugano Festival 2013
Martha Argerich (piano)
Lilya Zilberstein (piano), Andrey Baranov (violin), Michael Guttman (violin), Lyda Chen (viola), Alexandre Debrus (cello), Enrico Fagone (double bass), Alfred Rutz (flute), Corrado Giuffredi (clarinet), Gregorio Di Trapani (percussion)
rec. 3 July 2013, Palazzo dei Congressi, Lugano (Beethoven concerto), all others at Auditorio Stelio Molo, Lugano: June/July 2013.
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 631220 [3 CDs: 58:13 + 62:26 + 66:11]

The last in this, I hope continuing, series which I reviewed was from 2011 (see review). This collection of highlights from the Lugano Festival 2013 is the twelfth ‘Martha Argerich and friends’. Numerous eminent and familiar names have returned to bring us what is almost invariably a refreshingly enthusiastic collection of live recordings which deliver a little of the atmosphere of the Lugano Festival into your living room. These are not necessarily library choice recordings, though they frequently have more verve than many a studio version of such music. Those already in the know will be snapping this up for its feeling of renewed discovery, passion and sheer enjoyment from all concerned, even where duplication of pieces might otherwise be an issue.

The set opens with the last work to be recorded in Martha Argerich’s Lugano festivities, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, a work she has recorded a few times before. This recording is nicely balanced, with the orchestra sounding full and the piano not too dominant though with plenty of detail. There is not a huge amount to choose between this and the Deutsche Grammophon ‘Lugano Concertos’ set from 2012, though with orchestral discipline a little better in the final Rondo with the Orchestra della svizzera italiana and a less wobbly first flute my vote goes for this Warner version. The 1985 DG recording with Giuseppe Sinopoli can be found these days in the excellent ‘Concerto Collection’ (see review). While this is a grander affair I’ve always found its recessed winds, rather ‘fat’ sound and over-forwardly balanced piano less appealing than the tauter live versions, though Argerich is superb in all of them.

Deutsche Grammophon is our reference with Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 2, Argerich and Maisky’s recordings on two separate CDs reissued as a very fine complete set in 2002. With this live recording the piano is a little brighter and the cello not quite so prominent in the balance. The feeling of dialogue is still there, though there is a sense that Maisky is behind the piano a little. That said, the feeling of playful expressiveness and virtuosity is a joy to hear, and Argerich’s light touch and sensitive colouring allows the cello room to sing through.

CD 2 opens with Ottorino Respighi’s intense and compactly wrought Violin Sonata in B minor. In this case it is the violin which takes prominence over a more distant piano, but Renaud Capuçon’s playing can cope with close scrutiny. I would have preferred it if the violin sound could have melted into the piano texture more, but this is still a warmly generous performance, the central Andante espressivo at times creating a strikingly orchestral atmosphere. The sparing notes of Liszt’s La lugubre gondola are a big contrast with the Respighi. Once again the violin is more exposed and clear than the piano which is a minor shame, and I have an itchy feeling the Margulis duo might have allowed the music a little more room to breathe. Shostakovich’s Cello sonata in D minor, Op. 40 from the same concert as the Liszt fares better in terms of balance, the cello a more realistic partner to the piano and allowed to accompany as well as rise above where the music demands. This is a passionate but superbly controlled performance, mostly remarkable for its sustained Largo, which at 9:16 comes in over a minute longer than many of even the slower versions. Gautier Capuçon and Gabriela Montero keep us grimly engaged however, and manage to prevent the music from stagnating. The sardonic humour of the other movements is nicely observed, Shostakovich’s outward smile caught out every time in the soulful darkness it seeks to hide.

CD 3 has a sensitive and beautifully turned performance of Ravel’s early Violin Sonata Op. Posth., Andrey Baranov and Jura Margulis creating stained-glass translucency. Debussy’s Petite suite is one of those rare things, a piece new to the Argerich discography. Argerich has worked with Cristina Marton before, and their collaboration here is an object lesson in expressive unity, the lightness and melodic appeal of Debussy’s four brief movements played without pretension but with the utmost attractiveness. Carlo Maria Griguoli’s transcriptions have become something of a fixture with these festival recordings. His set of four pieces from Offenbach’s Gaîté parisienne is great fun, the three-piano team displaying how to make this potentially ponderous combination into something light and joyous, as well as making each number into more than just a disposable bonbon. The famous Barcarolle is done marvellously, with a halo of harmonic brushstrokes allowing the melody to hang ethereally in the air.

The ‘grand gala’ finale is Saint-Saëns’ glorious Carnival of the Animals in its superb 10-player version, with each instrumentalist revelling in their descriptive roles. Sliding strings, scampering and catastrophic pianos, sparkling percussion, far-off and far-out winds and sublime solos are to be found everywhere and this is a real feast of fun and frolics. There are always some movements which deserve pointing out, and if the terminally slow Tortoises don’t make you want to climb the walls then Argerich and Zilberstein’s Pianists will have your pedagogical soul sink through the floor in hilarious empathy. Comparison with other recordings by Argerich et al are inevitable, and the one I know best is from the Complete Philips Recordings box (see review). All are excellent, but the characterisations in this 2013 live recording are hard to beat and the recording is second to none.

Martha Argerich’s 2013 Lugano Festival recordings are as ever worth every penny of their very reasonable asking price. Yes, there are a few minor queries with regard to recording balance, but every performance is good and some are stunningly so. This particular edition is worth the asking price for the Saint-Saëns, Ravel, Shostakovich and Beethoven alone. This kind of project is what music-making should be all about, and indeed often is, at places and by remarkable musicians of which you’ve never heard. That in the end is the only criticism of these Lugano recordings, which leave anyone seeking new repertoire or perhaps a place with a keen sense of today’s vibrant compositional creativity with thin pickings.

Dominy Clements
Track listing
CD 1
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, op. 15 (1795) [34:47]
Martha Argerich (piano), Orchestra della Svizzera italiana/Hubert Soudant
Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor, op. 5 no. 2 (1796) [23:21]
Mischa Maisky (cello); Martha Argerich (piano)

CD 2
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Violin Sonata in B minor, P110 (1916-17) [25:22]
Renaud Capuçon (violin); Francesco Piemontesi (piano)
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
La lugubre gondola, S200 (1882) [7:47]
Alissa Margulis (violin); Jura Margulis (piano)
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Cello Sonata in D minor, op. 40 (1934) [29:06]
Gautier Capuçon (cello); Gabriela Montero (piano)

CD 3
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1935)
Violin Sonata, Op. posth. (1897) [16:16]
Andrey Baranov (violin); Jura Margulis (piano)
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Petite Suite (1899) [13:14]
Martha Argerich (piano); Cristina Marton (piano)
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
Gaîté parisienne [10:25]
Giorgia Tomassi , Carlo Maria Griguoli; Alessandro Stella (pianos)
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1831-1921)
Carnival of the Animals (1886) [25:57]