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Martha Argerich Debut Recital
Chopin Scherzo No. 3, Barcarolle
Brahms 2 Rhapsodies
Prokofieff Toccata
Ravel Jeux d'Eau
Lizst Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6

Review by Ray Chowkwanyun
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Martha Argerich Debut Recital

LP Stock Number: DG MG 2129

 

  The Argentinean fireballer first burst on the musical scene with this album. She now inspires a cult following despite (or because of) her penchant for canceling concerts at the last moment. She is said to not practice very much, virtually sight reading the pieces during the concert, which accounts for the improvisatory feeling of her performances. The pieces on this debut album were selected to showcase her superhuman keyboard technique.

 

Chopin Scherzo No. 3

We are immediately put on notice that we are listening to a major talent. It is not just the technical mastery, which is evident from the first few bars, but the expressiveness with which Argerich plays. The articulation of individual notes is incredibly clean. The dynamics are awesome. The speed is breathtaking. Yet all this technical firepower is always at the service of the music, never technique for its own sake. The combination of sheer technical firepower and intelligent interpretation result in an immensely satisfying performance.

 

Brahms 2 Rhapsodies

Argerich gets to show a softer, more thoughtful side of her playing in the Brahms Rhapsodies. It is easy to get carried away with the power of her fortes, but the strongest side of her playing may well be in the softer passages where she gets to display her superb and delicate sense of touch. At times, these Rhapsodies seem more like lullabies so gentle and delicate is her playing. She tickles the keys and notes just hang there limpid, but never limp. Then she comes back with her trademark propulsive rhythms, driving the music along at breakneck speed. She plays through the barlines, taking the music in great huge gulps.

 

Prokofieff Toccata

Such a composition could only have come from the pen of someone who was himself a keyboard virtuoso. Argerich displays towering technique as she romps through this music with an ease that belies its fiendish difficulty. The toccata begins with nervous jittery runs, complemented by quieter passages. Then the music starts to build as Argerich limns the swelling outlines of the music with rapid fire notes. The bass notes are captured magnificently in this recording. The piece ends in a frenzied flurry of notes. What kind of artist is it who can bring warmth and joy out of such unreservedly astringent material? Very exciting to listen to and the highlight of the album.

 

Ravel Jeux d'Eau

Showing off the wide range of her repertoire, the pianist now turns to the delicate colors of Ravel. Her soft touch is as sure and deft as her fortes are thunderous. Argerich brings out all the sad feelings of loss in this music, sleek and impressionistic as it is. As in the Toccata, her ability to deliver rapid fire flurries of notes realizes the latent excitement of this piece.

 

Chopin Barcarolle

Argerich turns again to the Polish master. Hers is a fine lilting performance, full of propulsive vigor. In her hands, the music pulses with strength and purpose. The softer passages are handled with great deftness and a fine touch. Her interpretation highlights the dark side of Chopin's composition with its presentiments of modernism.

 

Lizst Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6

Argerich ends her debut recital with a rollicking performance of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody. No more subtlety here as she pounds home the main theme. Once again, her sheer technical virtuosity allows her to romp through another piece of great difficulty. She brings out all the sadness in the slow passage. There is a tremendous sense of fun in her playing of the madcap finale with its constantly repeated notes.

The piano is notoriously one of the most difficult instruments to record. The engineer has to steer between the Scylla of tubbiness and the Charybidis of tinniness. Deutsche Grammophon (DG) manages to capture the dynamics without sacrificing the upper registers. Especially impressive are the fortes when Argerich pounds on the lower notes. Still it's not as good as Harmonia Mundi say and certainly falls far short of the real thing. Try standing next to a Steinway grand sometime as a strong player plays full volume. The effect is earthshaking.

There is a Testament version of almost the same program which Argerich recorded for EMI prior to jumping ship to DG. In my opinion, her playing is altogether more assured and convincing on the DG than on the earlier recording for EMI.

 

Musical Enjoyment: 90

Sound Quality: 90

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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