When, in 1967, a young and relatively unknown Argentinian pianist stepped up on the stage and performed a relatively underperformed piano concerto, she set the concert world on fire.
The pianist was Martha Argerich, and the concerto was Prokofiev's third. Later that year, she recorded it with Claudio Abaddo and the Berlin Philharmonic. It became an instant best-seller, turned Argerich into a star, and raised Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No.3 to its rightful place.
Born in Argentina in 1941, winning several international piano competitions, and battling depression in the mid 1960's, Argerich burst to international renown with this recording. Timid and subtle she ain't. She has the restaint of a whirlwind, her virtuosity born of her latin origins.
The Prokofiev 3rd is a work that demands virtuosity, and Argerich delivers in full. This is not a studied, contemplative work. It rushes forward ever faster, and just when you thought it could not get more intense, it explodes in color and contrast. Argerich delivers a jaw-dropping performance, and an absolutely thrilling finale leaving you drained and elated at the same time.
If you are new to the Prokofiev 3rd, you'll be blown away by this performance. If you are familiar with it, you'll either love it or hate it. This is a celebration of virtuosity, that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. At times the Berlin Philharmonic has trouble keeping up, and occassionally sounds a bit muddy. Those wanting a crisp, more studied reading will enjoy Gary Graffman's performance on EMI, or the recording by Argerich's teacher, Michelangeli.
Ravel - Piano Concerto in G
Many composers suffered from debilitation in their final years. Beethoven and Smetena went deaf, Bach blind and Schumann mad.
The most tragic story, however, belongs to Maurice Ravel. He was affected by a brain condition, probably a tumour, that slowly destroyed his ability to speak and write, and later his control of his hands and arms, so he could not play music. And most tragic of all, his mental function was preserved, fully aware that he was unable to express in any way, the myriad of musical ideas in his mind.
In 1929, before his illness began, he decided to write a piano concerto for himself, to show off his abilities both as a composer, and pianist. His project was delayed by several years by commissions (including a piano concerto for left hand) so that by the time of its first performance in 1932, he was completely unable to perform it himself.
The Piano Concerto in G
is a work of the jazz age, with the hustle and bustle of 1920's city life, remeniscient of Gershwin, the heart-wrenchingly sad Adagio
, and the final explosion of oriental fireworks. Argerich's performance, almost improvisitory, is perfectly suited to this showpiece.
Ravel - Gaspard de la Nuit
As a very generous filler, we come to what will be for some the highlight of the disc. The Gaspard de la Nuit
are a set of three pieces for piano, based on poems by Aloysius Bertrand. The stories are fantastic, macabre, gothic, in the fashion of Edgar Allen Poe. The music, likewise, in the tradition of Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre
and Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique
The first, Ondine
, is about a mermaid who sacrifices her life for a mortal love, the second Le Gibet
about the death writhings of a hanged man, and the last, Scarbo
about a goblin who haunts people's sleep and who is able to frighten them even to death.
The grim stories are but a point of inspiration for Ravel, whose music revels in the ethereal plane of the spiritual, and descends into the cacaphony of hell.
Despite the underlying percussive nature of a piano, Argerich can make it sing, slide, and shimmer, a ghostly apparition one moment, a threatening moment of terror the next. Truly amazing stuff.
Please support Good-Music-Guide.com
by purchasing this CD using this link.
Piano Concerto No.3
Piano Concerto in G, Gaspard de la Nuit
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Piano Concerto No.3
- Andante - Allegro
- Thema. Andantino - Variations I. L'istesso
- Allegro ma non troppo
Piano Concerto in G
- Adagio assai
Gaspard de la Nuit - Trois poemes pour piano d'apres Aloysius Bertrand
- Le Gibet