Martha Argerich: David Threasher Pays Tribute to a Pianist Who Unaccountably Eschews Solo Performance While Fostering the Highest Standards of Chamber Music at Her Annual Festival in Lugano

By Threasher, David | Gramophone, September 2013 | Go to article overview

Martha Argerich: David Threasher Pays Tribute to a Pianist Who Unaccountably Eschews Solo Performance While Fostering the Highest Standards of Chamber Music at Her Annual Festival in Lugano


Threasher, David, Gramophone


Martha Argerich is a paradox among pianists. Perhaps the most naturally talented among modern-day keyboard virtuosos, she has long since abandoned solo performance, fearing the feeling of being alone onstage. Interpretatively individual, she deplores studio conditions but is happy for her chamber and concerto performances to be recorded (and thank heavens they are). A natural performer, she is shy before television cameras and her innate volubility evaporates when the interviewer's cassette machine is produced.

For such a questing musical mind, too, her seeming retreat on record into repetitions (often multiple repetitions) of a characteristic but narrow repertoire might be seen as cause for regret. But while it's no hardship for her admirers when she produces yet more two-piano Brahms or chamber Schumann, there are still surprising new entries to her repertoire: the Zarebski Piano Quintet from Lugano in 2011 is a notable example; so too is the Poulenc Concerto for two pianos in 2007. Fiercely single-minded, she makes a perfect duo-sonata partner for players with a similar approach to their art: Gidon Kremer, Mischa Maisky and Nelson Freire, and, of the younger generation, the Capugon brothers and Nicholas Angelich, among many others. A high point of musical collaboration was reached at last year's Progetto Martha Argerich (her annual chamber music colloquium in Lugano) when she and Maria Joao Pires offered a Mozart D major Piano Duet Sonata, K381, of simply breathtaking finish.

It's this spirit of collaboration that defines her recent music-making. The Progetto brings together the musicians she most loves to work with--friends such as those mentioned above; and family, including her second husband, the conductor Charles Dutoit, and her daughter from her first marriage, the viola player Lyda Chen. The recordings from these events are far more, though, than simple souvenirs d'occasion. Many festival recordings convey the thrill of the live concert without offering the finest playing; the 'Live from Lugano' series, by contrast, offers so many performances that might certainly be considered contenders, even benchmarks, that each one is eagerly anticipated by pianophiles. Not only are Argerich's own performances captured by the microphones but also those by her charges in which she does not take part; her spirit, though, hovers over each one, a testament to her musical generosity and her sharp ear for a potential protege.

For some reason, adjectives chosen to describe Argerich's playing seem to tend towards the geological: 'mercurial' is one that is perhaps overused, if only because it encapsulates so ideally the eloquence and unpredictability of her playing. 'Volcanic' is another: I'm not the only writer in these pages to note her ability to give her concerto collaborators a metaphorical kick up the backside if she catches them napping. (I've witnessed her doing just that, in a Proms performance of the Ravel G major. …

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