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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Chopin: The Legendary 1965 Recording
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58 [24:23]
Mazurka No. 36 in A minor, Op. 59, No. 1 [3:49]
Mazurka No. 37 in A flat major, Op. 59, No. 2 [2:51]
Mazurka No. 38 in F sharp minor, Op. 59, No. 3 [3:06]
Nocturne No. 4 in F, Op. 15, No. 1 [3:39]
Scherzo No. 3 in C sharp minor, Op. 39 [7:07]
Polonaise No. 6 in A flat major, Op. 53 ‘Polonaise héroïque’ [6:37]
Martha Argerich (piano)
rec. 23, 24 and 27 June 1965, No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London, UK
WARNER CLASSICS 9029669767 [52:13]

To mark Martha Argerich’s eightieth birthday year, which falls in 2021, Warner Classics has remastered and reissued Chopin: The Legendary 1965 Recording, a solo recital album recorded in 1965 for EMI Classics at the famous Abbey Road studios. Argerich made a huge impression on the music producer Suvi Raj Grubb. He wrote: “Argerich was quite the most formidable player we had ever come across […] nothing would have been beyond this woman”. During the recording session, Grubb soon realised he had to make sure Argerich was “fortified by gallons of strong, black coffee”.

It is hard to avoid superlatives. Argerich has been often described as a ‘a force of nature’, and that pretty much summed up my thoughts at seeing her play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in 2013 at Bridgewater Hall in Manchester (review). I treasure the memories from what was, up to now, my one and only Argerich concert.

A prodigious talent, Argerich was just seven when she first performed professionally: at a concert in Buenos Aires she played the same Beethoven concerto. At fourteen, she moved to Europe to study; her tutors included Friedrich Gulda and Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. Before this album, she had already been recorded almost thirty times, mainly live radio broadcasts that included piano competitions in Bolzano and Geneva.

The nineteen-year-old Argerich drew considerable attention with the 1961 debut album for Deutsche Grammophon, Martha Argerich: Piano Recital, comprising works by Chopin, Brahms, Liszt, Ravel and Prokofiev. The recording was produced in July 1960 at Beethoven-Saal, Hannover. I have a 1995 reissue renamed Martha Argerich: Début Recital, with the addition of Liszt’s Sonata in B minor recorded in June 1971 at the Plenersaal, Munich. The mastering employed is original-image bit-processing. The album was chosen as one of The Originals: Legendary Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon.

The win at the prestigious Warsaw International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in March 1965 is widely regarded as Argerich’s great breakthrough. The twenty-five-year-old’s success came just three months before the recording of the present album. I have seen this 1965 recording referred to as her debut recital but it only was her debut album for EMI. Owing to contractual issues, the album had to wait thirty-four years for its long overdue first release in 1999; it was digitally remastered by Paul Baily. The principal work is Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, and there are six single-movement pieces: three Mazurkas, a Nocturne, a Scherzo and a Polonaise.

Since I first heard Argerich play on records, in concert and auditioning this album, my personal feelings have not dimmed in the slightest. One can imagine Argerich as an emotionally volatile, diva-like character, exciting and demanding of excellence at all costs. One notes her ability to contrast minutely nuanced playing with volcano-like vigour. Argerich certainly makes her presence felt, and is impossible to overlook.

Argerich’s playing on this album, as one might expect, spurns a kid-gloves approach. One immediately notices the spontaneity as she communicates a charismatic temperament. That is a special response I rarely experience with other artists. An example of the strength, punch and authority she has at her disposal can be heard here in the Finale: Presto non tanto of the B minor Sonata, and in the Polonaise héroïque. Very much to my taste in Chopin, Argerich does not drag out slow movements such as the Largo of the B minor Sonata, an attractively song-like and dignified notturno cantabile.

For the recording in June 1965, Suvi Raj Grubb teamed up with Christopher Parker at the No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London. This new remastering in HD 192kHz/24-bit was made by Art & Son Studio of Annecy using the original tapes. The sound is clear and cool, a discernible though moderate improvement over the Baily remastering. The booklet notes, disappointing in scope and length, contain a short passage about Argerich at the recording session written by producer Suvi Raj Grubb, taken from his book Music Makers on Record (Hamish Hamilton, pub. 1986). There are also short paragraphs from four reviews of Argerich’s playing at the 1965 Warsaw International Chopin Piano Competition. With such stunning performances as these, one does not mind an album with only fifty-two minutes of music.

Over her long and fruitful career, Argerich has released a wealth of rewarding albums. In my book, this reissue is undoubtedly one of the finest: a stunning portrait in music of a rising star destined for legendary status.

Michael Cookson

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