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Martha Argerich - Early Recordings
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata No. 18 in D major, K 576 [13:49]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata No. 7 in D major Op. 10 No. 3 [22:09]
Serge PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Toccata Op. 11 [4:16]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Gaspard de la nuit [18:20]
Sonata No. 3 in A minor Op. 28 [6:21]
Maurice RAVEL
Sonatine [10:05]
Sonata No. 7 in B flat major Op. 83 [15:44]
Martha Argerich (piano)
rec. WDR Köln, Saal 2, 1960 and 1967 (Prokofiev Sonata No. 7) and NDR Hamburg, Rolof-Liebermann-Studio, 1960 (Ravel: Gaspard, Prokofiev: Toccata, Sonata No. 3)
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 5978 [36:00 + 54:50]

This mixture of works includes pieces that would become signature repertoire for Martha Argerich, and other pieces that she never seems to have recorded again. The blurb on the back of the cover rather unkindly suggests that she was, “at the age of 18, already at the peak of her abilities” – downhill only from here on then, though of course we know this is far from the truth. I would have written, “…already having established the foundations of a brilliant career.”

These are mono recordings made for radio broadcast, and while the sound is perfectly adequate, none of the repertoire you will find duplicated on subsequent recordings is replaced by the versions here, and certainly not in terms of sound quality. This is more a release for Argerich fans, though it does indeed have greater value than mere academic interest. The Mozart Sonata K 576 has a sprightly energy, with subtleties of touch and colour that rise to an almost steely brightness that emphasises a wealth of dynamic contrast. Argerich had studied with Friederich Gulda, who no doubt encouraged the bringing out of the at times almost operatic drama in this sonata, taking it to realms beyond that of a delicate salon artefact. The same goes for Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 10 No. 3, which reveals further insights into Argerich’s fearsome technique and fearless musicianship. If you listen to Friederich Gulda’s 1967 recording then you will find comparable if more often broader timings, Argerich plumbing more profound depths than Gulda’s more lyrical Largo e mesto second movement, but with a similar fieriness of energy in the first movement. Argerich is more impetuous in general however; the extreme contrasts in the Menuetto delivering quite a punch and making Gulda seem a model of restraint, but sharing his driving tempi in the final Rondo.

Argerich recorded Prokofiev’s Toccata Op. 11 on her debut album for Deutsche Grammophon in 1961 and this is a more controlled and of course far better sounding recording than this 1960 NDR Hamburg, which despite being only a few seconds shorter is something of a scramble in places. This and the 1974 recording of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit can be found in the DG box set Vol. 1, ‘The Solo Recordings’. Timings in this later version are significantly more roomy than in 1960, with refinement taking over to a certain extent from the drama and excitement of comparable passages in the earlier recording. Argerich is still full of timeless mystery in Le gibet however with somehow more of a feel of Debussy in the 1960 recording, the muddiness of the mono sound robbing Scarbo of some of its definition in the lower registers, but still creating a breathtaking if a little breathless impression. The Sonatine can also be compared with this 1974 DG programme, once again indicating a slight relaxation of tempi in the later version but not by much – only a few seconds in each movement. More focussed artistry in the later recording once again has to stand against greater vitality in 1960, in particular in the final Animé movement.

Prokofiev’s music suits Argerich’s remarkable musical temperament as a sort of ideal composing partner, and her recordings of the concertos are always an event. The single-movement Sonata No 3 Op. 28 is given a stunning performance here, the booklet notes referring to the “altogether idiomatic way" in which performance markings such as tempestoso and agitato are interpreted, but also respectful of the sensitivity with which the semplice central section is played – this is by no means only barnstorming. The Sonata No. 7 is from a later session in 1967, still in mono, but here with a more trebly, at times almost jangling sound. The live 1979 recording made in the Concertgebouw Amsterdam now available via Warner Classics is subject to a little audience noise, but is massively exciting and much better recorded. That said; this North German Radio version still has plenty to offer in terms of incredible virtuosity and musical insight.

This set can certainly be recommended very highly to enthusiasts. It is nicely illustrated with plenty of black and white photos. Fans of Martha Argerich will be delighted to be able to add these historic recordings to their collections. Newcomers to Argerich’s playing will do much better with some of those collected editions that have made her recordings accessible and reasonably economical to buy, though one does see silly prices for some box sets these days. Hearing these mono recordings is a fascinating experience but the classic albums are classic for a reason, providing, as they do, a much more durable impression of this remarkable pianist.

Dominy Clements



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