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Ludwig van Beethoven Piano Concertos Nos. 2, 3 Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

In an ideal world, Beethoven would always feel as shockingly fresh as this.

Andrew McGregor 2005

"Making a live recording with Martha Argerich does not follow conventional lines."

When that's the first sentence of the liner notes for a new CD, you'd be forgiven for suspecting that it was some kind of warning, of the what-follows-is-not-for-the-faint-hearted school. And perhaps that's true: anyone who thinks they know what to expect in these much-loved Beethoven Concertos is in for a shock. But then again, when it says Martha Argerich on the cover, you know that there'll be nothing routine or run-of-the-mill inside. Expect the this case, performances of two of the great classical concertos that overflow with life, imagination, courage and colour,plus an apparently limitless appetite for discovery. New things lurk around every corner; Beethoven's ideas seem startling again, refreshed by Argerich's mercurial curiosity.It should be contradictory,at times it feels as though you're listening to a pianist who thinks more deeply about Beethoven's music than most, then the next second you're presented with a turn-of-phrase or explosive outburst that must have been a sudden inspiration, minted in the moment.

Argerich has taken her time getting to the Third Concerto; before this live performance in Ferrara in February 2004, she'd played it only twice in public, the last time 20 years ago. Apparently, she was tense and nervous before the concert...but it sounds as though the moment the performance started, any doubts fell away. Abbado is an old friend (they go back half-a century, would you believe?), and they both love working with young musicians. For their part, the members of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra sound as though they know that this was a privilege, and a pleasure.

If you need convincing that you should hear these performances (and by now you really shouldn't), then sample the feisty Rondo finale of the Second Concerto, where the spiky energy and sheer brilliance of Argerich's touch brings a new urgency to a movement that can sound a shade too comfortable in some other well-respected hands. It's not just that famous Argerich fire, though; in the opening of the slow movement of the Third Concerto, time stands still as she finds a simple, graceful eloquence that made me hold my breath for rather longer than was comfortable the first time I played this CD.

There's little audience noise until the "Bravo!" and applause at the end, and I'd have felt robbed if they weren't there after performances as compelling as these.

Listen to the recording -it's the antidote to over-familiarity. In an ideal world, Beethoven would always feel as shockingly fresh as this.

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