One of the finest musical partnerships over the last forty years or so has been that of
Martha Argerich http://marthargerich.blogspot.co.uk and Claudio Abbado. Argerich still continues to thrill with her performances but, sadly Abbado is no longer with us.
Deutsche Grammophon www.deutschegrammophon.com has just released a boxed set that brings all their recordings for that company since their first in 1967.
This treasure trove of music making starts with Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.3 in C major, Op.26 recorded in Berlin at the Jesus-Christus-Kirche with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1967. This is a performance of power and authority combined with wit and understanding. There is phenomenal playing here with intuitive accompaniment from Abbado and the Berlin players, a fine incisiveness with moments of supreme poetry.
The recording lacks, perhaps, the last degree of clarity but is still very good.
Abbado brings some raucous jazz elements to the Ravel Piano Concerto in G major recorded with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at the same time in Berlin. Argerich provides a freely improvisatory quality that is quite beguiling. Dramatic contrasts abound as well as some exquisitely pointed up details and poetic moments. Abbado draws from the orchestra some intoxicating orchestral sounds. There is a wonderfully restrained adagio assai, surely one of the finest performances of this movement, exquisitely done by all. They do not hold back on the jazz elements in the final presto.
The second disc in this set with the London Symphony Orchestra opens with Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor, Op.11 recorded in the fine acoustic of Walthamstow Town Hall in 1968. Abbado and the LSO bring some stirring playing in the opening of the allegro maestoso with some beautifully turned woodwind passages. There is a lovely sensibility from Argerich, tremendous fluency, beautifully judged tempi and phrasing and a fine rubato. She is so sensitive to Chopin’s muse with much fine poetry particularly in the larghetto where she provides some gorgeous playing, Abbado and the LSO providing some fine woodwind sounds. Argerich is not without fire and impetuosity in the terrific Rondo Vivace.
There is virtuosity galore in Liszt Piano Concerto No.1 in E flat major yet with many moments of refinement and poetry from both Argerich and Abbado. These two bring a sense of something greater, a cohesion and stature. There are some lovely instrumental moments revealed by Abbado and such taut playing in the finale in what must be one of the finest Liszt First Concertos ever made.
Both the Chopin and the Liszt have excellent, detailed recordings from Walthamstow.
This disc also contains a later recording of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major made in 1984 with the London Symphony Orchestra in St. John’s Smith Square, London. It opens with what initially sounds like a more refined, subdued quality than their 1967 Berlin recording but soon Abbado lets loose with the same raucous jazz style, this time perhaps even more so. Argerich shows more freedom and breadth with playing that is taut, full of verve and panache. There are some magical moments, finding more poetry and élan to contrast with the sheer raucous jazz sounds in playing that is tremendous with a fine rhythmic bounce. There is a sublime adagio assai with beautiful woodwind before a terrific Presto with remarkable playing from Argerich supported by superb orchestral playing from the LSO.
It is difficult to choose between the two performances in this set, the first more spontaneous, the section more refined. Luckily anyone acquiring this set doesn’t have to choose.
For the third disc we return to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor, Op.23 set down in the Großer Saal of Berlin’s Philharmonie in 1994. Abbado draws a lovely brilliance of sound from the BPO whilst Argerich is superb though less overtly spontaneous than in her 1980 live Munich recording with Kondrashin (Philips). There is terrific control and very fine rubato in this obvious meeting of musical minds that brings superb tautness. Argerich builds to some pretty fiery playing without missing the moments of fine poetry. There is an often restrained, beautifully shaped andantino with Abbado drawing some lovely woodwind passages and Argerich giving a dazzling display of nimble virtuosity in the faster central section. To conclude there is a taut allegro con fuoco with absolutely superb playing from both pianist and orchestra, such intuitive musicianship, never holding back, providing a terrific interplay before a formidable coda.
This is a performance to cherish even if the 1980 one has more overt excitement. The live recording is excellent
The Mahler Chamber Orchestra have more recently partnered Leif Ove Andsnes in a very fine cycle of the Beethoven piano concertos for Sony. Disc four brings this orchestra in recordings of the third and second Beethoven piano concertos made in the Teatro Comunale, Ferrara, Italy in 2004 and 2000 respectively.
Abbado and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra bring great character to the orchestral opening of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37. The way he shapes the phrases, drawing some lovely playing from the orchestra. When Argerich enters she brings a tremendous strength, soon countered by a poetic stance. She brings her usual exceptional technique in moments of fine display with great panache and a formidable momentum particularly in the cadenza. The largo is beautifully judged, a leisurely pace allowing the music to unfold with fine poetry and great restraint. The rondo allegro brings a beautifully light touch with incredible fluency and lovely orchestral shaping of phrases.
The applause at the end of this excellent live recording is kept.
With Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat major, Op.19 the Mahler Chamber Orchestra brings a touch of the period orchestra feel, a lightness, transparency and clarity, with the woodwind showing through clearly. Argerich brings a terrific forward momentum with a fine delicacy of touch. There is fine interplay between soloist and orchestra before a superb cadenza. The adagio is beautifully drawn with so many fine moments, such sensitive orchestral accompaniment before a rollicking rondo molto allegro with Argerich providing some terrific momentum with fine rhythmic bounce and tremendous fluency.
Again the applause at the end of the concerto is kept in; another excellent live recording. This is Beethoven to stand with the best.
Finally we come to the fifth and final disc of this set that includes the two Mozart performances issued separately by Deutsche Grammophon last year and reviewed by me in March.
Both were recorded live at the Lucerne Festival in March 2013 and poignantly represent the final opportunity to hear these two fine musicians together. There are beautifully turned phrases from Abbado’s Orchestra Mozart in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K.503. Argerich’s touch is exquisite as is her sense of Mozartian flow. There are some lovely woodwind passages in the andante and some ravishing playing from Argerich, so beautifully controlled and phrased, with such sensitivity, creating a magical world.
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K.466 reveals the chamber like nature of some of this music making. As the music builds in dynamics, Argerich brings all her strength without foregoing poetry. There is a beautifully nuanced romance with Argerich providing both poetic and muscular moments, as do the Orchestra Mozart. Again there are passages of exquisite beauty with this pianist showing all of Mozart’s changeable moods. Pianist and orchestra throw themselves into the rondo with gusto providing playing full of spontaneity and life; an absolute joy.
The live Lucerne recordings are excellent.
These are memorable performances from a memorable partnership. If you haven’t already got them, snap them up.