Ever-enterprising Doremi is to be commended for its restoration of rare and historical recordings. In some cases these have been out of circulation for years or, in others, have never been issued before. Their catalogue is a treasure trove for collectors, with many artists that have long since disappeared from the radar. Not so in this case. Argerich’s high profile career is now well into its sixth decade and in the concert and recording world her prominence has conferred on her a cult status. As volume 1 in a proposed series, one can look forward to further Argerich releases, perhaps with material new to her substantial discography.
On offer here is a selection of Mozart works, recorded in 1960 in Munich and Cologne. The Concerto no. 21 has never been commercially recorded by Argerich; neither have the three piano sonatas, though there are live radio recordings of each documented in one of the discographies I discovered; as to their availability, I would be very doubtful. Here we revisit Argerich at the beginning of her career, at nineteen already displaying a distinctive personality and formidable technique – two qualities which place her in the upper echelons of the pianistic firmament.
She was born in 1941 in Buenos Aires, Argentina and started piano lessons at the age of three. At eight she played her debut concert. 1955 was an important year in her development. Her parents took up diplomatic posts in Vienna and the family travelled to Europe. Here Argerich was exposed to some of the greatest pianists of the time, and she studied with the likes of Friederich Gulda, Stefan Askenase, Nikita Magaloff and later Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. Within the space of three weeks in 1957 she won the Geneva International Music Competition and the Ferruccio Busoni International Competition. In 1965, at the age of twenty-four she won the Seventh International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. Since then her career has taken a stratospheric leap and she now has a secure place amongst the great pianists of our age.
The Swiss conductor Peter Maag (1919-2001) with the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra partners Argerich in the C major Piano Concerto, K467. Maag excels in this repertoire, having made something of a speciality of Mozart. Setting the pace of the opening movement with a brisk tempo, the music remains upbeat and never sags. I compared this opening with Mitsuko Uchida’s latest live recording with the Cleveland Orchestra. Having recently acquired this CD I’ve been listening to it a great deal whilst on holiday. Timings differ considerably – Uchida 15:42, Argerich 12:56. The more sprightly and animated tempo definitely works better for me. It gives the pianist a chance to show off her pearl-like fingerwork, which sparkles with clarity and elan. The diaphanous woodwinds engage in an enchanting dialogue with the piano in the second subject.
Argerich’s treats the lyrical second movement as an operatic aria. With exquisite phrasing she maintains the long melodic line with spellbinding expressivity. The movement is a perennial favorite amongst the composer’s slow movements. It’s a pity that it has picked up that unfortunate ‘Elvira Madigan’ association along the way. The concerto ends with a sparkling finale, delivered with vitality and aplomb.
K310 is one of two piano sonatas which Mozart composed in a minor key. Composed in Paris in 1778 Mozart was, at the time, experiencing a low point in his career. The disappointments which resulted are reflected in the dark nature and turbulence of the work. Again tempi are on the animated side, some may even find the first movement a little hard-driven.
Yet, with all three sonatas there is a tangible charm, elegance and simplicity. Phrasing and dynamics are carefully considered. Bass lines are pointed to highlight the structure and architecture of the music. Argerich’s sparing use of pedal adds a myriad spectrum of colour to her playing. Having listened to the CD several times, these are performances of which one never tires; there is an element of spontaneity and freshness apparent with each repeated hearing. Slow movements are eloquently realized and sensitively sculpted - finales are delivered with abandon.
Sound quality for the time is excellent in both the concerto and sonatas. This allows detail to emerge with clarity and definition. Booklet notes by Jack Silver are in English only. I look forward eagerly to future installments of this great pianist’s recorded legacy.
Masterwork Index: Piano concerto 21