Top Ear

Argerich in Lugano, 2014

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Leonard Ip writes (translated from the Chinese by Jeremy Lee)

We have Argerich and Lugano to thank every year for bringing so much musical enjoyment to us. This year I have reason to express particular gratitude to them, since Argerich has left her best recording of Mozart’s 20th piano concerto (K466) to date. Argerich has recorded the work three times, under Rabinovich on Teldec, Abbado on DG, and this time under Jacek Kaspszyk conducting the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana (the Lugano Festival’s “orchestra-in-residence”). Needless to say, remakes don’t always improve on the first-time-rounds, but Argerich’s third recording can be said as one to integrate the strong points of the previous two—or, to put it precisely, one that finds a stylistic balance between the previous two recordings. Cognoscenti familiar with the Teldec recording would have found Argerich’s recording from last year surprising: Argerich had mellowed considerably. I would use the word “tame” to describe that DG recording, but K466 is a work that is at once theatrical and dramatic, and by comparing the two I can’t help but feel that the Teldec recording is more thrilling. Argerich’s fiery temperament and the extreme dynamic contrasts in the Teldec was a recipe for unprecedented excitement, but Argerich’s “late style” in the 2000s also had its virtues, the key of which was its naturalness: instead of using sheer speed and power to propel the musical narrative, Argerich started to breathe an almost improvisatory aura into the music and emphasize the inevitability of the narrative, bringing the music to life. The third K466 combines both virtues. For example, in the first movement, the first solo entry’s pianissimo textures are more delicate than the Teldec recording, as well as melodically shapelier than the DG. Overall Argerich manages to imbue the music with just the right amount of emotion, no matter in theatrical sections (e.g. the development of the first movement, the Romance’s middle section, or the virtuosic passages in the finale) or expressive ones (the second theme of the first movement or the first and last sections of the Romance). Combined with her full and rounded touch, her performance can only be described as unputdownable.

I’ve always liked the Swiss Italian Orchestra’s performances in the Lugano Festivals hitherto, and this year is no exception. The accompaniments are ____ (refer to around 4:36 in the finale where the string phrasing is affectingly expressive), and the orchestra’s sonority, while more delicate than the Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto on Teldec (especially in the woodwinds), is also more robust than that of the Orchestra Mozart. This, married to Argerich’s exceptional playing, amounts to one of the great K466s of all time.

I realize that I have spent almost half my review on one concerto, and for very good reason: one, Argerich’s performance really is very special, and two, every single recording on these three CDs are fantastic, and I can’t begin to list each and every detail. Some larger works are very much worth listening to: Milhaud’s La Creation du Monde (Op. 81a), usually played by a chamber orchestra, is now arranged by Eduardo Hubert in a five-piano version that is unfailingly entertaining; Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 1, here arranged for piano eight-hands, is my first hearing, bringing clearer lines and textures to the work, while Zilberstein and co. injects the work with gusto; Weinberg’s Violin Sonata is quite a difficult work to digest, but under Kremer and Argerich’s robust and exciting interpretation it becomes absolutely engrossing. Personally I enjoyed Borodin’s early Piano Quintet the most. Its melodies, all of a brand of deep expressivity and red-blooded passion that is undoubtedly Russian, its three-movement structure and the C major finale remind me of the great (and unjustly underrated) Medtner Piano Quintet. Here Alexander Mogilvesky and co. bring a highly integrated and impassioned performance. Lastly I must mention Poulenc, whose works have continuously been championed in Lugano (more, please!). This time Argerich and Dagmar Clottu plays the four-hand Sonata, while Francesco Piemontesi and Gautier Capucon cooperate in the Cello Sonata. The latter’s melodies are heart-meltingly pretty, while the former is written and interpreted with infectious fun, so much that I couldn’t help laughing with the music. The joys of chamber music don’t get any better than this! I look forward to next year’s Lugano and hope they will continue to bring the joy of music to the masses.


  • Album Name:  Martha Argerich & Friends: Live from Lugano 2014
  • Label: Warner Classics
  • Catalogue No: 2564613460
  • Series: Martha Argerich Lugano Festival
  • Discs: 3
  • Release date: 11th May 2015
  • Barcode: 0825646134601

Author: Top Ear

Musical hooligans.

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