on 31 January 2008
The most important work on this disc is the Liszt Piano Sonata in B minor. This work, composed in 1853, stands as one of the greatest piano works of all time. Its challenging technical demands and considerable involvement required from the soloist make it a key work in the establishment of any virtuoso pianist. All the greats, from Richter and Rubinstein to Ashkenazy and de Larrocha, have played and recorded it in their careers.
Martha Argerich, perhaps the greatest pianist of our time, is perfectly at home in this piece. Her playing "speaks" of an artist who is capable of exploring the full range of emotions on the keyboard. Unlike other contemporaries, such as Bolet and de Larrocha, as eminent as they are, Argerich establishes herself on an echelon higher, achieving a fluid and perfectly creative touch, that is never stilted or mechanical. Many artists have been overtly aggressive in the final four minutes, but Argerich modulates tone, tempo and pitch with a flair all of her own. The work beautifully enjambs from one movement to another under her command. This remains the most convincing account of Liszt's masterpiece that I have yet heard.
The other works here come from 1961, Argerich's debut recital, hence the title. There are some very charming works that supplement the Sonata well. The Brahms Rhapsodies (Nos. 1 and 2) are attractive and Argerich, ever the full-blooded performer, attacks the Prokofiev Toccata, an offbeat and almost deranged piece, with supreme vitality. Her chromatics would inspire any student of the piano! The piano arrangement of Ravel's Jeux d'eau is also given a dreamy quality in Argerich's hands. The two Chopin pieces are excellent too, but perhaps the next best thing to the Liszt feature is the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6, by the same composer. This is virtuosic fire and passion at its best, and Argerich's command of the crescendo is very fine, she shows no sign of difficulty in maintaining the intensity through her consistent speeds.
The serious flaw in this album is the poor recording. Unfortunately the entire disc suffers, but particularly frustrating are the Liszt Sonata and the Ravel feature. They are both marred by tape hiss. This is surprising considering DG's usually exceptional results in their "Original Image Bit Reprocessing." However, the dry sound during the Sonata may be welcome to some ears, certainly the raw passion of the performance is well caught.
All in all, this disc is a testament to Argerich's virtuosity. If you can get past the recording, than this will become a much loved part of your collection.
I have just noticed three reviews and not one gives this legendary recital, paired as it is with Argerich's barnstorming account of the Liszt Sonata, a five-star rating.
This debut recital epitomises the legend that is Martha Argerich, containing music-making of such poetry and finesse alongside the now predictable witchcraft. If the Chopin scherzo isn't quite as demented as her Concertgebouw performance (EMI) I say that's all to the good, but take any old master you like, they won't surpass the magic of Argerich's Barcarole - my favourite Chopin moment. It's just too bad that there isn't more Brahms in her discography because the Rhapsodies Op.79 couldn't ask for a finer interpreter, such depth of feeling. For fun there is the virtuosity of the Toccata and Hungarian Rhapsody, but last on the bill, the main event
Liszt: Piano Sonata in B Minor (tracks 8-18)
thought by many to be Argerich's finest hour in the studio. Dazzling from first note to last. Not even Brahms would have nodded off during this performance. I keep it alongside Pollini's godlike traversal and that, as they say, is that for Liszt's magnum opus.
Anything less than five stars simply will not do, and not to own this CD means your music collection has fallen short of greatness. Definitive performances throughout.