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CD Review: Martha Argerich pours out life force in 2011 summer festival album

By John Terauds on August 21, 2012

For 11 straight years, pianist Martha Argerich has assembled her personal dream team of musicians for a festival in Switzerland — captured in an album of highlights.

MARTHA ARGERICH AND FRIENDS
Live from Lugano 201 (EMI Classics)

A half-century of musicmaking seems only to have been a warmup for Argentinean pianist Martha Argerich, who continues to wow with the immediacy and love she pours into every note she plays. There is life force in everything she touches.

She and a small constellation of collaborators lay out a magnificent panorama in a 3-CD box of highlights from last summer’s Martha Argerich Project Festival in Lugano, Switzerland — an annual treat since 2000. Each disc mixes tried-and-true repertoire with something unusual, and there isn’t a single note that doesn’t compel attention.

The first CD has an elegant, sleek performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 8 with Renaud Capuçon, a poised Piano Trio by Joseph Haydn and Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestücke for piano and cello with Gautier Capuçon. The bonus rarity, played with what I can only describe as sensuality by Argerich and Cristina Marton, is a duo piano Sonata (in F Major, K497) by Mozart.

The second disc has Franz Liszt’s two-piano arrangement of his heart-pumping-on-sleve 1851 Concerto pathétique powerfully pairing Argerich with Lilya Zilberstein, followed by Rachmaninov’s Trio élégiaque, written in memory of Tchaikovsky, all sad and good. Then all hell breaks loose in four movements of a suite for three pianos adapted from Cheryomushki, a forgotten 1958 operetta by Shostakovich about Stalin-era slum-apartments of suburban Moscow.

Despite the subject matter, this is true, rollicking operetta music clearly inspired by 19th century Vienna – except everything sounds forced and manic, suggesting that the aural dancing may not be in tune with life in a suburban slum.

The final disc has two Argerich signature pieces by Ravel. La valse is heard often because it makes a fabulous showpiece, but so rarely does the music truly dance and shimmer and sparkle and send ghostly shivers up and down the spine as in this spectacular performance.

Her take on the G-Major Piano Concerto, paired with the Orchestra della Svozzera italiana, is rhythmically lively yet sleek. Last on this disc is the real find: a magnificent 1885 Piano Quintet completed by neglected Polish composer Julius Zarebski (1854-1885) in his final months. It is dedicated to Liszt.

The intense, magnificently nuanced interpretation is worth the price of admission alone. The Adagio movement contains an aching viola solo (expertly rendered by Lida Chen) that gradually builds into a gorgeous, melancholy rhapsody for the full quintet.

Especially after a particularly golden Toronto Summer Music Festival, people in this city aren’t lacking in fine, engaging chamber music, but performances like these help keep the flame burning for another year — and hopefully enchant new listeners along the way.

I can’t find information on this album on EMI’s website, so here, reluctantly, is a link to the album on Amazon.

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Here is a little Liszt bonbon, the Piano Concerto No. 2, in A minor, from the 2011 festival in Lugano, from guests who didn’t make it into the CD box:

And here is the Adagio from the Zarebski quintet, performed with a bit more restraint than in the Argerich version by the Quarto Quartet and pianist Darina Vassileva in a 2010 recital in Sofia, Bulgaria:

John Terauds

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