Classical Reissue Reviews

Martha Argerich, Vol. 2 = LISZT: La Leggierezza in F Minor; PROKOFIEV: Piano Sonata No. 3; Toccata; Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-Flat Major; RAVEL: Gaspard de la Nuit; Sonatine – Martha Argerich, p. – Doremi

The Argentine Martha Argerich in youthful recital, 1957 and 1960, in works both colorful and virtuosic.

Published on June 16, 2014

Martha Argerich, Vol. 2 = LISZT: La Leggierezza in F Minor; PROKOFIEV: Piano Sonata No. 3; Toccata; Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-Flat Major; RAVEL: Gaspard de la Nuit; Sonatine – Martha Argerich, p. – Doremi

Martha Argerich, Vol. 2 = LISZT: La Leggierezza in F Minor; PROKOFIEV: Piano Sonata No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 28; Toccata, Op. 11; Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-Flat Major, Op. 83; RAVEL: Gaspard de la Nuit; Sonatine – Martha Argerich, p. – Doremi DHR-8029, 60:35 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

Assembled from live recitals in Hamburg, Bolzano, and Cologne, this compilation offers the artistry of Argentine virtuoso Martha Argerich (b. 1941) 1957-1960.  Argerich’s early recital on DGG would likewise solidify her repute in the music of Liszt: here, she plays the Concert Etude No. 2 in F Minor (Balzano, August 1957) with the limpid facility that we already ascribe keyboard phenomena like Bolet, Levitzky, and Arrau.  The runs, minor thirds, and extended trills in degrees of pianissimo Argerich swallows whole, meanwhile maintaining the sense of evolving variation.

Argerich alters the tenor of her sound with Prokofiev’s 1943 B-flat Major Sonata, Op. 83 (Hamburg, 16 March 1960), the second “War Sonata” whose anxious sensibility often explodes into visions of murderous, unbalanced forces. The Allegro inquieto frequently indulges in a kind of violent “fate” motif, followed by chromatic figures played softly, which offer little consolation. What little of the life-affirming qualities the Sonata expresses come in the Andante coloroso, a “warm” transcription of a Schumann song, Wehmuth, from his Op. 39 Liederkreis. The emotion depicts outward joyfulness that masks a broken heart. The staccato figures contest those of more legato and parlando character. The bass line indicates a heavy irony accompanies the supposedly tender sentiments. Irony, naturally, dominates the last movement, Precipitato, a virtuoso’s fiery baton.  This splashy toccata provides a natural vehicle for Argerich’s incendiary temperament, revealing more of fusillades than fingers connected to this pianist.

Prokofiev’s 1912 D Minor Toccata, Op. 11 ensues, another explosion of sixteenth notes, chromatic thirds, and obsessive riffs on the note D in both alternating hands. Argerich seems intent to grind us all into submission to this onslaught, whose alternating octaves and final glissando leave us spellbound. The Sonata No. 3 “From Old Notebooks” opens with a gush of triplets that soon subside into the second subject, Moderato, tranquillo, pianissimo, legato, semplice e dolce. Argerich demonstrates her acumen in quick shifts of mood and meter, especially as the music builds to fortissimo and con elavazione. Argerich manages to remind us that Prokofiev renders these emotional gallops in abbreviated sonata-form, the elongated  the coda’s muffled energies that build to a shattering cadence.

Argerich closes her ‘program’ with two Ravel staples, the first the dazzling 1908 tribute to the poet Bertrand, Gaspard de la Nuit (Hamburg, 16 March 1960), whose opening movement, Ondine provides a manifesto on varying keyboard touches. The extremely taut line that Argerich establishes obtains colossal power and color texture before the music subsides in a paroxysm of sensuous passion. Le Gibet proffers a haunted B-flat either to suggest a tolling bell or the ineluctable fact of death itself. The weird play of muted light upon the hanging corpse achieves the desired Gothic effect, Edgar Allen Poe transformed into a keyboard poem. Scarbo presents an apparition of a twisted dwarf whose spiritual kin is likely Gnomus by Mussorgsky. Another toccata – often in blazing ‘Spanish’ colors – Scarbo confirms the composer’s desire to test the performer with a piece more grueling than Balakirev’s Islamey. Argerich proves more than proficient technically, having imposed a poetic as well as digital will upon this monstrously ungainly but mesmerizing composition. The murmuring ostinatos alone will compel repeated hearings of this fine rendition.

The 1903 Sonatine by Ravel finds Argerich in Cologne (8 September 1960).  The modest means of the piece – excepting the Anime finale – present the true colorist in Argerich, playing the first movement Modere as an Aeolian mode of F-sharp Minor. The theme exploits a perfect fourth and its inversion, a perfect fifth, the texture watery, in the manner of Liszt. An adjustment to the theme leads to the subsequent movements, another Liszt compositional device. The D-flat Menuet has no trio, and Argerich plays it as an evolving, intimate waltz in upbeat accents. The F-sharp Minor Anime proffers another wicked toccata for Argerich to execute with flamboyant aplomb. The shift of the music to 5/4 produces a series of muted, rippled arpeggios that move subito a tempo to the recapitulation that Argerich tempers to achieve a thrust to a preconceived and glowing crescendo. The piano sound throughout is been piquant and clear.

—Gary Lemco




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