Notes and Editorial Reviews
Ballade No. 1 in g. Etude in c?,
Mazurkas: in c?,
Nocturnes: in F,
Piano Sonata No. 3
Martha Argerich (pn)
DEUTSCHE GRAMOPHON B0013960-02, mono (64:25) Broadcast: Berlin 1/26/1959; 3/15/1967; 12/3/1967; Cologne 10/31/1967
In our era, when large record companies parade good-looking mediocrities before us as major artists, it is good to be reminded of the real thing. Martha Argerich, as this CD demonstrates, had everything: the looks, the temperament, and the technique. By her mid 20s, she already was a phenomenal artist. Although her broader career actually began with victory in the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1965, the earliest selection on this CD, from 1959, shows us how precociously Argerich built up her mastery. Her most influential teacher often is said to have been Friedrich Gulda. One can hear his influence, on this CD, in the structural clarity and harmonic daring of the playing. Argerich also studied with Nikita Magaloff, Stefan Ashkenase, and Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, all among the best Chopin players of their time. Yet, as the present recording proves, Argerich sounds like none of these men. From early on, Argerich was always Argerich, and the evidence on this CD lies in recordings that range from fascinating to remarkable.
The earliest recording here, the Ballade No. 1, was made when Argerich was just 17. Already one notices the clear-cut sense of structure. The introduction of the second subject shows great gentleness, and its long line builds up naturally. The Ballade’s coda is typically brilliant. Fast forward to 1967, and Argerich is in her mid 20s. Her etude now is a whirlwind, yet harmonically convincing. Her mazurkas in general are a little faster than usual, with a very wide dynamic range. Op. 41/4 is rhythmically intricate, a too undanceable dance. Op. 41/1 finds the pianist in an uncommonly relaxed mood. In op. 24/2, she teases the melodies like a cat plays with a ball of yarn. Her op. 63/2 already shows a mature feeling for the tonal shadings of late Chopin. The famous dance, op. 33/2, is accented with the subtlest rubato.
Argerich plays the three op. 59 mazurkas as a set. She is very attentive to Chopin’s tempo markings, which typically may indicate mood as well as tempo. For example, in op. 59/1 her moderato is somewhat subdued. Op. 59/2 is a Parisian dance as much as it is Polish, while op. 59/3 seems very Polish. In the op. 15/1 Nocturne, the B section provides a great contrast, a violent eruption that is perfectly controlled. The return of the A section is simple yet refined. The op. 55/2 Nocturne is full of romance, yet harmonically astute.
The recording of the Third Sonata is apparently the only selection on this CD that occurred before a live audience, which is fairly quiet throughout. Comparing the first movement with the 1959 Ballade No. 1, one notices here in a large structure how much more sophisticated Argerich’s playing had become by 1967. The movement is free but with no lack of focus,
in the turbulence that Argerich keeps under control. Her scherzo is truly
. The Largo begins immediately after it. Here the tempo perhaps is a little too slow, prompted by the desire to balance the momentums of the first subject and the deeply romantic second subject. The structure suffers somewhat. After the brief opening of the finale, you catch your breath as Argerich introduces the first subject. The playing of this movement is brilliant and dramatic, just on the edge of being too fast. Indeed, on the edge is where Argerich seems to feel most comfortable throughout this collection.
The sound engineering on this CD, from four different German radio recording sessions, is perfectly acceptable mono. The 1959 Ballade No. 1 does have a slight fizzing sound in places. I always have been satisfied with good monaural sound on solo piano recordings; I’m not sure that stereo adds all that much. Argerich’s friend and colleague Nelson Freire has called her the greatest pianist of her generation. This CD, if not absolute proof of that judgment, offers artistry that is very hard to argue with. For lovers of Chopin and of great piano playing, this album is warmly welcomed.
FANFARE: Dave Saemann
These previously unpublished German Radio broadcast recordings (all but one from 1967) capture Martha Argerich's Chopin at its youthful peak: impetuous, rhapsodic, musically loaded for bear, and pianistically uncanny.
The disc opens with a fervent and daring G minor Ballade from 1959--the 18-year-old Argerich already was Argerich. The Op. 59 No. 1 and 2 Mazurkas' winsome rubatos and dynamic taperings do not substantially differ from those on Argerich's 1967 DG Chopin solo disc. By contrast, No. 3 from the same group pushes a little harder and contains similarly telegraphed phrases (that is, where the right hand slightly anticipates the downbeat).
My opening sentence adjectives particularly apply to the B minor sonata, which essentially adheres to the studio recording's game plan, but with a more expansive Largo in tow. While the rippling calm of the Op. 15 No. 1 Nocturne's outer sections proves more satisfying than Argerich's less stable 1965 EMI version, Op. 55 No. 2's sublime polyphonic web occasionally tangles and overheats. Overheating, however, doesn't hurt the Op. 10 No. 4 Etude, served up with impressive finger power and nervous energy, notwithstanding an overpedaled coda.
Perhaps a group of five mazurkas (four of them previously unrecorded by Argerich) best profile the pianist's individuality. Her fluid rubato and ethereal melody/accompaniment separation create a hypnotic languor in the E minor Op. 41 No. 1 and F minor Op. 63 No. 2 pieces. The C-sharp minor Op. 41 No. 4 begins deliberately, working its way up to controlled abandon. Little rhythmic kicks and offbeat stresses lend interest to the D major Op. 33 No. 2's repeating main strain, while the quirky C major Op. 24 No. 2 is lithe and uncommonly brisk--it nearly finishes before it starts. The less said about Jürgen Otten's fatuous program notes, the better, yet one cannot say enough about vintage Argerich.
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
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