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Martha Argerich - The Complete Sony Classical Recordings
rec. 1975-1992
SONY CLASSICAL 88985 320352 [5 CDs: 225:53]

To celebrate the 75th birthday of the Argentinean pianist Martha Argerich, Sony have released this 5 CD box of her complete commercial discography on RCA, Columbia and Sony. Each card sleeve is adorned with the original jacket. The recordings date from 1975-1992.

What attracts me to this set is that it presents the many faces of Argerich – as soloist, chamber musician and concerto collaborator. The Beethoven and Haydn concertos provide the only instance of the pianist directing from the keyboard, and the Scriabin Prométhée is the only example of this composer’s work she has recorded to date.

Argerich was born in 1941 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She started piano lessons at the age of three and played her debut concert at only eight. In 1955 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, studying with the likes of Friedrich 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 among the firmament of the foremost pianists of our age.

James Galway left his Berlin Philharmonic post in 1975 and embarked on a solo career. His first RCA solo release was this one with Argerich. For me, it is a highlight of the set, with a tangible rapport existing between the two players. The Prokofiev is the jewel. Completed in the summer of 1943, it was premiered in Moscow in December of that year by Nikolai Kharkovsky (flute) and Sviatoslav Richter (piano). A year later the composer, with the help of David Oistrakh, transcribed it for violin. Galway’s luscious tone and unforced brilliance are compelling. The Franck Sonata, originally for violin and piano, is here transcribed for flute. It works very well, and it is a pleasure to hear it in this unfamiliar guise. I have misgivings about the Argerich/Gitlis collaboration disc. My problem lies with the violinist. I don’t particularly care for the idiosyncratic rubato in the Debussy Sonata, and neither do I find Gitlis’ habit of arbitrary on-off vibrato to my taste.

Directing from the keyboard, the Beethoven and Haydn concertos were taped in London in 1980. They sound so fresh and vital, informed by grace, elegance and charm. Tempi are just right, and an ideal balance has been struck by the recording engineers between the piano and orchestra. The Beethoven is every bit as fine as her later traversal with Abbado on DG. The Schumann Op. 17 is impassioned and eloquent, and Argerich’s stunning technique fully does justice to the first two movements, with plenty of fantasy adding to the allure. The third movement, by contrast, is thoughtful and probing. The Fantasiestücke, Op.12 is no less convincing. I love the way she expressively phrases Des Abends, but I felt Aufschwung a little too frenetic. These Schumann recordings are the same as those released by EMI in 1990 (CDM 763576).

Dazzling virtuosity is the name of the game in the Strauss Burleske. The performance, which I have to say is the finest I’ve heard of this youthful showpiece, is fiery, capricious and volatile. Both players inject plenty of zest into the more energetic moments, whilst savouring the glorious melodies of the more lyrical sections. The Scriabin Prométhée is a gripping reading of this lushly orchestrated opus, with Abbado highlighting the richly varied pastels of the score. Argerich’s febrile delivery has passion, drama and intensity. It’s regrettable that she hasn’t recorded any more of the composer’s music. I’m pleased that the optional wordless chorus has been included.

This is a worthy tribute to a great pianist, and a must-have for pianophiles. The booklet notes, in English, German and French have been written by Jed Distler and include some interesting photographs.

Stephen Greenbank
Complete track-listing:
CD 1 [49:58]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Sonata for Flute and Piano in D major, Op. 94 [23:00]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Sonata for Flute (Violin) and Piano in A major [26:28]
James Galway (flute)
Martha Argerich (piano)
rec. London, 1975

CD 2 [52:04]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasie in C, Op.17 [27:37]
Fantasiestücke, Op.12 [20:46]
Martha Argerich (piano)
rec. Milan, 1976

CD 3 [37:23]
Sonata for Violin and Piano in A [25:01]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Sonata for Violin and Piano [11:56]
Ivry Gitlis (violin)
Martha Argerich (piano)
rec. Milan, 1976

CD 4 [48:47]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.2 in B-flat, Op.19 [29:17]
Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Concerto in D, Hob.XVIII-11 [18:55]
Martha Argerich (piano/conductor)
London Sinfonietta
rec. London, 1980

CD 5 [37:41]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Burleske for Piano and Orchestra in D minor [18:41]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Prométhée – Le Poème du feu, Op. 60 [18:54]
Martha Argerich (piano)
Berliner Philharmoniker/Claudio Abbado
rec. live, Berlin, 1992



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