Berliner Philharmoniker - Claudio Abbado
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She Came, She Played, She Conquered
Regardless of the competition, she always came away with first prize. After Geneva and Bolzano came the ultimate triumph: in 1965 Martha Argerich, a native of Buenos Aires just turned 24, won the Chopin Competition in Warsaw. Not surprisingly, concert promoters rushed in to engage this marvellously gifted musician - record producers had long ago pricked up their ears. Her "debut recital" recording - already released in The Originals (447 430-2), together with the Liszt Sonata recorded somewhat later -literally burst upon the musical world like a bombshell. Her first Deutsche Grammophon recording with orchestra soon followed - it was also Claudio Abbado's debut for the Yellow Label - two virtuoso 20th-century works beloved of musicians and public alike: Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto and Ravel's Concerto in G. Even in those early days, the fiery young pianist seemed completely at home in both works, and this gave her interpretations the solid foundation needed for her playing to move freely and spontaneously and, at critical moments, to take off. One explanation could be simply the fact that she knew both scores inside-out. But her astonishing command had also to do with the conformity of Argerich's musical conception and technical resources with the atmosphere, elasticity of phrasing and intensification of dynamic and rhythmic momentum that each composer had in mind for the performance of his concerto. The actual correspondence between a musical text and its realization is in fact always elusive. Each musician who "re-creates" a work is an individualist, reading what can only be suggested on the printed page. But the more intense and impassioned the decisions are that the musician takes, the more authoritative and memorable will his or her interpretation be for the listener. The controlled nervousness vibrating in the orchestra at the outset of this exemplary performance of the Prokofiev Concerto raises the curtain on a new kind of piano writing, consisting all at once of fire, water, air and smoke. From the first seething, gyrating unison passages Argerich appears to be in her element. But what is perhaps even more extraordinary is how this passionate musician shows herself to be an absolute master of every technical challenge. The tumultuous series of chords at the end of the unison passage already mentioned is just one example of this - the texture thickens and at a stroke we find ourselves within layers of sound forged from metal and primeval rock.
Martha Argerich's special affinity for Prokofiev - pianist-composer of searing melodies, explosive rhythms and exuberant unpredictability - has also resulted in her developing a staunch loyalty to particular pieces. She has steadfastly refused to record his complete works for piano, instead choosing to concentrate on this Concerto, the Sonatas nos.3 & 7 and the Toccata op 11. It seems to be crucial for her to be able to identify completely with a given piece - only then is she capable of abandoning herself to it. Naturally, over the years there have been subtle changes in the style and fine tuning of her performances of Prokofiev. These same observations can be made about her relationship to Ravels piano music. His Concerto in G, heard here in an interpretation full of vitality and utterly free of pathos, at one moment bubbling over with joie de vivre, the next tinged with melancholy, has been Martha Argerich's close companion over the course of 30 years. This recording can be regarded as a document of her early contact with a broader public. It also reflects the Martha Argerich of today - her sensibility, her vulnerability, her occasionally almost despotic brilliance and her anxiety over being tied down by the demands of the music business.
In addition to the Concerto, Martha Argerich plays Ravel's Sonatina, Valses nobles et sentimentales, La Vase and (with a second pianist) Ma Mere l'oye; but she is particularly devoted to the cycle Gaspard de la nuit. Feline, supple grace, a feeling for unconventional tonal shadings and a temperament capable of savouring to the full the extremes of reflection and rapture, produce the most thrilling, articulate and evocative of all interpretations of Ravel's masterpiece.
-Peter Cosse (translation - Adele Poindexter)