Prokofiev for Two
Martha Argerich & Sergey Babayan
Romeo and Juliet – Eugene Onegin – Hamlet – The Queen of Spades – War and Peace
Deutsche Grammophon, 2018
Prokofiev for Two: the Programme
Prokofiev for Two is the album that Martha Argerich and Sergey Babayan dedicate to Sergey Prokofiev’s works. Babayan transcribed for piano all the works, including 12 Movements from Romeo and Juliet and some short pieces. The works remind of Prokofiev’s contribution in many different genres, from ballet – of course – to opera (War and Peace) to incidental music (to Eugene Onegin, Hamlet and The Queen of Spades). Finally, one of the two Waltzes Prokofiev composed to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Pushkin’s birth is also included.
Argerich and Babayan premiered Prokofiev for Two in Lugano and then played it in several European theatres.
The choice of Prokofiev’s works for the two pianists is not fortuitous. Babayan is more than familiar with the composer’s music, which he performed many times. Babayan dedicated all of the transcriptions to Martha Argerich, his close friend for many years. In this way, the significance of Prokofiev’s music in Argerich’s career is also highlighted. It was performing Prokofiev’s Toccata op. 11 that Argerich won the Busoni Competition in 1957 (an early performance of the Toccata is now included in Martha Argerich. Early Recordings) and Prokofiev’s works remain part of the pianist’s repertoire.
Prokofiev for Two: the Performance
After many successful performances of Prokofiev for Two around Europe, this recording is the crowning achievement. As one might expect from two refined pianists, their performance is riveting. The chemistry between Argerich and Babayan is perfect. They perform Prokofiev’s works with exceptional stamina and with extreme attention for colours and dynamics. In this way, they accentuate the delicate side of his music, but especially its sharp colours.
12 Movements from Romeo and Juliet
In the 12 Movements from Romeo and Juliet, in particular, the alternation between softness and intensity is particularly evident. What is really stunning about these pieces is that Argerich and Babayan perform them with predilection for strong contrasts, which highlight in the clearest possible way the many features of Prokofiev’s music, from the hostility of Montague and Capulets to the charm of pieces as The Young Juliet, from the enthralling and joyful Folk Dance (with its precious colours and intelligent use of the dynamics) to the exquisite and delicate nuances of Romeo and Juliet Before Departure with its suggestiveness and abandon.
Even though the there are only twelve pieces, it is possible to find in them all the nuances of Prokofiev’s ballet, thanks in the first place to Babayan’s exquisite transcription, and in the second place, to Argerich’s and Babayan’s fine performance.
The Other Pieces
The seven, short pieces that round off the collection are not only nice fillers, but magnificent additions. The gloomy atmosphere of The Ghost of Hamlet’s Father is as finely expressed as the light and sparkling colours of the dances from the incidental music to Eugene Onegin, from The Queen of Spades from Pushkin’s Waltz and from Natasha’s And Andrei’s Valse from War and Peace. Finally, the Idée fixe from The Queen of Spades is the most impressive piece for its technical brilliance and skilful expressive playing.
Prokofiev for Two is a recording where you can appreciate every detail and where every detail has its precise meaning. It was very unlikely that Martha Argerich and Sergey Babayan could have been disappointing. As it happens with every fine performer, however, the result reveals always something that is surprising and brilliant. Even though Romeo and Juliet is one of Prokofiev’s most popular works and arrangements are not scarce and there is plenty of its performances, the personal touch of the two pianists is determinant and make very difficult to pay no attention to the present one. As for the shorter works, Argerich and Babayan perform them so well that it is a pleasure to discover them. In the end, Prokofiev for Two is a far-reaching and amazing album.