This chance unearthing of Martha Argerich recordings is quite the find.
Daniel Ross 2010
This chance unearthing of over an hour of Martha Argerich recordings is quite the find. Recorded between 1959 and 1967, it captures the Argentine workhorse at her most powerful and alluring – with a hefty record contract signed by this point, seemingly nothing was beyond her interpretative powers. All the better, then, that this collection tackles Chopin, one of the more difficult of the piano’s main exponents to interpret. Taking in his Nocturnes, Mazurkas and a climactic live performance of the third Piano Sonata, this is something of a whistle-stop tour of both composer and performer.
Argerich, clearly focused, coaxes incredible narrative-led performances from these works. Crucially, each melody and countermelody is given its due importance and we feel, at all times, in very safe hands. This is not to say that these hands aren’t also capable of slapping you around the face once in a while either, as the Ballade in G minor ably displays. The solemn, almost mournful exposition gives way to tremendous bravura, a carnivalesque romp, and calms itself once more with similar control before a dashing and explosive conclusion.
Quite conversely to all this exquisite construction, the ditty-like Etude in C sharp minor finds Chopin in an altogether more frivolous mood, but it is not without its barbs. Though Argerich reins in the floridly burbling left-hand notes despite the hyperactive speed, they are not the main attraction – as always, the melody prevails and makes the whole performance so much more humanistic. The Nocturne in F major features even more contrast, a tranquil opening juxtaposing finely with the furious abandon of the middle section. It is typical of Chopin to line two extremes up so closely to one another, but Argerich manages to make it as fresh and surprising a version as you might hear.
It’s the final live performance of the third Piano Sonata that has lasted most impressively, though. Naturally hefty because of its sheer length and import, it becomes as light as many of Chopin’s more whimsical studies under Argerich’s control. She offers us tantalising snatches of salvation amongst the pomp of the first movement and irresistible tension and bluster in the finale, skipping through the early triplets and imbuing it with wonderful rhythmic drive before bringing it home with style. Exhausting, truthful and invigorating.
The last thing we hear on the disc after this mammoth effort is ecstatic applause – anything less would be inappropriate.