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Piano Concerto No 1
Rachmaninoff - Concerto No. 3

Tchaikovsky - Concerto No. 1

Argerich / Chailly / Kondrashin

Philips 446-673-2


Serge Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30
Klavierkonzert d-moll
Concerto pour piano et orchestre en re mineur
(Publishers – Verlag – Edition: Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers, Ltd)

1) Allegro ma non tanto 15:26
2) Intermezzo. Adagio 11:00
3) Finale. Alla breve 13:53


Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23

Klavierkonzert b-moll
Concerto pour piano et orchestre en si bemol mineur

1) Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso – Allegro con spirito 19:07
2) Andantino simplice – Prestissimo – Tempo 1 6:20
3) Allegro con fuoco 6:54

Martha Argerich piano – Klavier

RSO Berlin – Riccardo Chailly (Rachmaninoff)
– Ricardo Chailly appears by courtesy of the Decca Record Company Ltd

Symponie – Orchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks
– Kirill Kondrashin (Tchaikovsky)

Recorded Live Live-Aufnabmen Enregistrements publics:
Sender Freies Berlin (SFB Werbung GmbH), Berlin, 12/1982
Bavarian Radio, Munchen, 2/1980 (Tchaikovsky)

(P) 1982, 1995 – This compilation (P) 1995 Philips Classic Productions


One Of Nature’s Happenings

– Bryce Morrison       

This recording is issued to celebrate two legendary performances. Rachmaninoff’s Third – arguably the most daunting and opulent of all Piano Concertos – has become inseparable in many musician’s minds from Martha Argerich, one of the few living pianists able not only to tame but dominate and engulf music of the highest passion and pianistic intricacy. Such a statement invites comparisons with other, celebrated interpreters of this magisterial example of fin-de-siecle Romanticism; with the composer himself, Horowitz, Gilels and Van Cliburn. Yet it is surely true to say that like all geniuses Martha Argerich defies even whispered comparisons, and listening to her performance one is, at any rate temporarily, blinded to all others. Sensuous, impulsive and with moments (notably in the finale’s fierce momentum) which will make even the most blasé listener or virtuoso fancier pale, Martha Argerich remains acutely sympathetic to Rachmaninoff’s idiom, to subtlety and rhetoric alike, while at the same time conveying her own inimitable force and individuality.

Not that Argerich places all her cards on the table immediately. She keeps her ultimate tour de force in reserve. Anxious, no doubt, not to confuse first movements and finales, she gives us a relatively subdued opening Allegro, fully aware of the composer’s non tonto qualification. Yet how boldly she sings the opening Slavic and chain-like melody (always with one more link than you expect and one which, according to the composer, “wrote itself”) silhouetting it against the orchestra’s pulsing accompaniment. How sharp, too, is her increase in pace and turbulence at the first piu vivo and the piu mosso start of the development. Again, in the first movement’s veloce flight shortly before the second subject, the tigress momentarily shows her claws and, throughout, the sheer scale and largesse of her conception proclaim a fearless aplom, with violently fluctuating tempi, the widest dynamic spectrum and, to take one specific instance, a heart-stopping acceleration in the thunderous chordal descent at the close of the cadenza. (She chooses the more silvery, transparent and better of the two.)

That inimitable touch of wildness, of untamed magnetism and charisma can be heard again in the central Intermezzo. Here, her first entry does indeed suggest “dark pearls flung on velvet” and, once more, terms such as Piu vivo prompt the sort of fiery conviction inseparable from this pianist. Even the many if brief moments of repose are dark and uneasy, quivering with restrained vitality before the next assault is fired. More specifically, the colossal climax and skittering poco piu mosso variation in rapid waltz time, with its machine gun volleys of repeated notes, suggest the sheer range of Argerich’s command; her force and effulgence in massive chordal writing, her flashing rapier reflexes in light-fingered brilliance.

But it is the finale which stuns and bemuses. This is launched at the conclusion of the Intermezzo like an intercontinental trajectory and with a verve and articulacy that even the composer (a formidable and eloquent champion of his own concertos) might have envied. How he would have wondered, too, at the sheer pace of the sudden rise in temperature. Argerich plays as if possessed and, like a river in full spate, she weeps all before her; a nail-biting experience for Riccardo Chailly and the RIAS Symphony Orchestra Berlin, her partners in virtuosity. Even the scherzando episode, normally a brief oasis of intricate calm, is volatile rather than playful, though in the extended meno mosso (excised in the bad and hopefully long past days of cuts) Argerich pauses to voice and savour Rachmaninoff’s richness to the full and with the most daring improvisatory freedom. The following a temp (poco a poco accerlando) proceeds in short gusts of sound, the end of each phrase curtailed for greater romantic intensity, then the lento rumination provides yet another breathing space for Argerich to recharge her energies and attack one of the composer’s most dazzling elaborations (a tempo come prima) with a truly vertiginous, reeling brilliance. Declamation is free and rhapsodic and as the final vivace buildup commences Argerich unleashes a positive firestorm of virtuosity.

Her, then, is a truly transcendental performance of Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto. Uncut and, above all, “live,” it possesses an almost palpable sense of occasion, of electricity flowing between pianist, orchestra and audience. What a reminder, too, that virtuosity is as much an attitude or state of mind as a matter of force and rapidity. Argerich’s alterations of pace and direction, seemingly at a moment’s notice, are second to none, and yet such athletic prowess would mean little if it remained uncomplemented or unenlivened by a temperamental force and fire, a passionate, elemental and, indeed daemonic quality.

The same characteristics fire and illuminate Martha Argerich’s no less revelatory performance of Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto. Her flashing interaction with Kirill Kondrashin is once more captured “live” and on the wing with passing inaccuracy and failures of ensemble left, mercifully, uncorrected. Such things are, indeed, like “spots on the sun,” the result of uninhibited, superabundant fleetness and brilliance. High spots include the two most famous octave fusillades played with a molten bravura, a first movement cadenza where the most audacious volatility and impetus replace a more customary free-wheeling, and a uniquely rapid, hallucinatory flight through the Andantino’s central Prestissimo; in Argerich’s hands truly a “scherzo of fireflies.” Her pace in the finale, too, is white-hot, with all the devouring force and speed of a bush fire.

Shura Cherkassky, among the greatest of all living romantic pianist, never tires of celebrating Martha Argerich’s “genius,” while Stephen Kovacevich speaks of an ease and fluency “beyond comprehension.” But perhaps the last word should go to the late Eugene List who, after referring to Argerich’s capacity, even as a child, to spin off octaves like single notes, went on to salute her as, quite simply, “one of nature’s happenings.”

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