Live from the Concertgebouw
1978 & 1979
Bach, Bartók, Chopin, Ginastera, Prokofiev, Scarlatti
EMI Classics, 2000
Pianist Martha Argerich recorded the works included in the Live from the Concertgebouw album between 1978 and 1979, offering an overview of piano repertoire from the Baroque to the contemporary age with compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach (Partita no. 2 in C minor, BWV 826 and the English Suite no. 2 in A Minor, BWV 807), Frédérich Chopin (Nocturne no. 13 in C and Scherzo no. 3 in C sharp minor), Béla Bartók (Sonata), Alberto Ginastera (Danzas argentinas, op. 2), Sergei Prokofiev (Piano Sonata no. 7 in B flat) and Domenico Scarlatti (Keyboard Sonata in D minor).
This programme is heterogeneous and rather audacious as it combines many different styles in little more than seventy minutes and, if on the one hand it allows you to appreciate Argerich’s versatility, on the other it shows with clarity what pieces inspired her better to detriment of the others. The Live from the Concertgebouw album is actually less perfect than what you might expect.
This said, the first thing that it is better to stress is that overall Argerich does not play bad. There is plenty of the usual, original colours that we are accustomed to hear from her, her technique is marvellous and, even in the pieces that I liked less, it is always recognizable a precise intention and an aim, so that the impression of negligence is – fortunately – completely avoided.
Despite this, it is impossible for me not to make some reservations, which actually concern only incidentally Bach’s two works as the first, the Partita no. 2, is rich in nuances and colours although in certain passages it seems a little cold, while the second, the English Suite (that you find at the other end of Live from the Concertgebouw) is gripping and exquisitely performed. Neither Ginastera’s Danzas argentinas are to question with their crystalline and exotic sound nor Scarlatti’s Keyboard Sonata, as this is a lovely, virtuosic piece that Argerich performs excellently. Chopin’s thoughtful Nocturne and Scherzo, on the other hand, are less remarkable. Argerich creates a magical, shining atmosphere in the Scherzo, but there is something in both pieces that does not seem to belong to Chopin and that therefore causes some perplexities, but they are nothing when you take into consideration Prokofiev’s Sonata.
The Sonata really disappointed me. This work begins quite well and proceeds through the first movement with enough artistry and skill to invite the listener to hear more, but, as the Sonata comes to an end, the pianist seems more worried to show off her virtuosity imposing a fast – too fast – time that actually makes the work unbearable. This is a feature that affects (slightly) also other works of Live from the Concertgebouw and I cannot but conclude that probably Argerich did so for the audience’s sake, because probably this kind of approach is more captivating in the theatre, when you are in front of the interpreter and are conquered not only by the sound but by the gesture too, but this does not work anymore when the live performance becomes a recording. The meagre consolation is that other recording of Prokofiev’s Sonata played by Argerich exist and that in those she is much better. Argerich seems definitely more at ease in Bartók’s Sonata and she performs it with vigour and élan.
Live from the Concertgebouw is not one of Martha Argerich’s best recordings after all. It is not too much bad, but, when it comes to an artist of that calibre, you are used to higher standards than the present one.