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Martha Argerich & Friends: Live from Lugano 2014
rec. June 2014, Auditorio Stelio Molo, Lugano and Palazzo dei Congressi, Lugano
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 613460 [3 CDs: 59:07 + 75:31 + 60:26]

Collectors of the Martha Argerich and Friends: Live from Lugano series will know what to expect from this 2014 edition: lively and transparent live recordings of repertoire both familiar and less well-known, or in versions you might not have come across before.

This set is a selection of recordings from the 13th ‘Progetto Martha Argerich’, which as usual brought together young talent with other well known colleagues of the Argentinian virtuoso.

Mozart’s Concerto in D minor K466 is described in the booklet as one of Argerich’s ‘party pieces’, and she certainly gives it a superb performance here. Her previous recordings of this work pop up from time to time, such as the 1998 one in the Warner Classics 250th anniversary Mozart set (see review), and her 2013 recording on Deutsche Grammophon with Claudio Abbado. Argerich is on fine form in 2014 with the same first movement cadenza as the DG recording played with memorable inventiveness and the accompanying orchestra is also very good, though the strings sound marginally more refined than the winds.

Beethoven’s Variations in E flat major on "Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen" is performed here with one of Argerich’s long-term musical partners, cellist Mischa Maisky. Their synergy is very much in evidence here and it sounds as if a great time is being had by all. The recording balance is fine, though tends to favour the cello a little.

CD 1 concludes with Darius Milhaud’s ballet score La création du monde, here performed in the composer’s arrangement for piano quintet. This is I fear a bit of a disaster. The tempo is too slow in the Prelude, the accompanying upper string lines being wrung for every expressive ounce possible when they should be a hazy background, the actual melody being entirely lost. Having been dragged through this inelegant opening and with further lapses in ensemble, a leaden tread and plenty of ghastly moments, poor old Milhaud has a hard time recovering. The Fugue does a little better, but the playing is unnecessarily abrasive and aggressive. The Romance is nicely schmalzy, this arrangement pointing up a Gershwin connection you may not have noticed from the orchestral version. This again lingers a little too much – you can’t imagine such a performance being much use for ballet. The Scherzo has some life, but the violins remain unlovely even given that the range is often very high here, nor does the Finale rescue this performance. I’m surprised it was allowed through for this collection.

CD 2 opens with Mendelssohn’s youthful First Symphony in an arrangement by Busoni for two pianos and eight hands. This is more like the Lugano fare we have come to expect and revel in, with a delightful performance from this quartet of fine pianists. Multiple pianos and pianists can result in heaviness but this is music filled with air and rhythmic unity, the first movement a driving tour de force, the Andante satisfyingly expressive and the Menuetto a really whirling dance with plenty of playful contrast. The final Allegro con fuoco is another virtuoso showcase but more noteworthy for its balance and musicianship – a great performance all-round.

Welcome contrast follows in the strings of Borodin’s Piano Quintet in C minor, though its genesis as an early work connects it to Mendelssohn and others in the influences on with which chemist/composer, still in his 20s, was drawing. Like the Milhaud, the recording does rather favour the first violin and the upper voices in general, but in this case these exposed lines are able to stand up to close scrutiny, and the energy of the central Scherzo and elsewhere shines through. Written in Italy, this is a generally sunny piece of music with some moments of tenderness and Russian soulfulness, played here with warmth and palpable affection by Alexander Mogilevsky and his colleagues.

‘Live from Lugano’ hasn’t been particularly notable for its representing British composers over the years, so finding Frank Bridge’s Cello Sonata in D minor is a treat. Composed during WWI, this is a work in which it is hard to avoid referring to Bridge’s pacifist stance, though listening blind might not instantly bring such associations to mind. This is however seriously heartfelt music, and played with passion in particular by cellist Gautier Capuçon, who has the best of the recorded balance. A more equal sonic partnership would have been preferable as the musical relationship between cello and piano is so well integrated by the composer, and these two musicians are clearly responding to the music and each other with utter empathy. This is another very fine and moving performance with buckets of communicative delivery, and with just a few more inches distance between the cello and its microphone(s) would have been well nigh perfect.

CD 3 brings us a healthy dose of Poulenc, though the first movement of the Piano Sonata for four hands is taken at the kind of breakneck speed which pushes wit aside to make way for brutal aggression, which is something rather alien to this composer, though others may disagree. The Rustique second movement is calmer and more characteristic, the final movement packed with energy but once again hacked at in a rather non-Gallic fashion. The Cello Sonata is a less familiar work from this composer, Gautier Capuçon’s cello once again up close and personal, with plenty of heavy breathing to go along with the at times dramatic, at times rhapsodic writing. There are some fabulous moments in this piece, such as that funny high gesture from the cello at the end of the first movement, and the rich sonorities of the piano harmonies in the second. If you can cope with listening from underneath the cellist’s nose this is a rewarding performance of one of the 20th century’s most substantial sonatas for this combination.

Scriabin’s Fantasy in A minor is an interesting early work which was intended for piano and orchestra, but never moved past the composer’s sketch for two pianos and remained unperformed in his lifetime. This is high romanticism with some lovely touches, but without much of the visionary mysticism of the later works. The collection is brought to a fitting close with Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s Fifth Violin Sonata, which sees Martha Argerich joined by long-term collaborator Gidon Kremer, in turn a strong supporter of this composer’s much deserved recognition today. This sonata was composed just after Weinberg was released from prison in 1953 on a charge of “Jewish bourgeois nationalism”, and its soulful first movement expresses a weariness with the human condition which is not entirely blown away by the Allegro molto second movement. Kremer’s violin is capable of howling in a strikingly vocal fashion, and while there may be some who prefer the safety of greater refinement I would take this fiercely communicative and closely argued approach any time – certainly in live performance. As remote witnesses via such a recording we can gain but an impression of the stage performance, but Kremer’s sheer Jewishness of sound and the severe rhythmic impact of the accompaniment combine to create a compelling experience which has plenty to convey through repeated listening.

All in all this is another very worthwhile ‘ Live from Lugano’ collection. There are the aforementioned recording balance issues which may or may not bother you, and that Milhaud is definitely going on the reject heap. There is too much wonderful music for this to be an overall disappointment however, and the best of the performances are uniquely special as ever.
Dominy Clements

CD 1
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K466 [30:40]
Martha Argerich (piano)
Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana/Jacek Kaspszyk
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Variations in E flat major on "Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen",
for Cello and Piano, WoO 46 [9:51]
Martha Argerich (piano), Mischa Maisky (cello)
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
La Création du Monde for piano quintet, Op. 81b (1923) [18:21]
Eduardo Hubert (piano), Dora Schwarzberg (violin I), Michael Guttmann (violin II), Nora Romanoff (viola), Mark Drobinsky (cello)
CD 2
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 11 (arr. Ferruccio Busoni for two pianos/eight hands) [30:47]
Akane Sakai, Lilya Zilberstein, Anton Gerzenberg, Daniel Gerzenberg (piano)
Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)
Piano Quintet in C minor [20:42]
Alexander Mogilevsky (piano), Andrey Baranov (violin I), Geza Hosszu-Legocky (violin II), Nora Romanoff (viola), Jing Zhao (cello)
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Cello Sonata in D minor, H125 (1913-17) [23:51]
Gautier Capucon (cello), Gabriela Montero (piano)

CD 3
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Sonata for Piano Four Hands (à mademoiselle Simone Tilliard, 1918, rev. 1939) [6:26]
Martha Argerich (piano), Dagmar Clottu (piano)
Cello Sonata, Op. 143 (1940/48) [22:04]
Gautier Capucon (cello), Francesco Piemontesi (piano)
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Fantasy in A minor Op. post. (1892-93) [7:23]
Alexander Mogilevsky (piano), Daniel Rivera (piano)
Mieczyslaw WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Sonata for Violin & Piano No. 5, Op. 53 [24:12]
Gidon Kremer (violin), Martha Argerich (piano)



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