It is one of the disappointments of my concert-going life not yet to have heard Martha Argerich live, which is one of the unfortunate results of her tendency to cancel. She is an idol for most people who love the piano (witness the several hundred videos uploaded to YouTube), and her recordings are often in my ears as the reference point on many pieces. Another film made for the excellent European arts network Arte, this recent installment in the DVD series from Medici Arts Idéale Audience is an hour-long documentary, premiered in 2002, about the elusive Argentinian pianist (also recently reviewed by Vivien Schweitzer in the New York Times). Director Georges Gachot not only convinced Argerich to speak to him on camera (all shot in a single evening in 2001, in between a rehearsal and a performance) but was able to include some remarkable footage, including some of that very rehearsal, of the Schumann concerto with conductor Jörg Faerber and the Württembergisches Kammerorchester.
Martha Argerich: Conversation nocturne, directed by Georges Gachot
(released July 29, 2008)
Medici Arts Idéale Audience 3073428
Mostly she speaks in French, with some anecdotes related in English, and a feisty exchange in German during that rehearsal with Faerber about the details of the Schumann concerto. She speaks a lot about her earliest musical influences. Yet another thing we can thank Claudio Arrau for is that his performance of Beethoven's fourth concerto gave the young Argerich her first musical frisson, awakening something in her, so much so that she insists she is afraid to play the work herself. She played for Viennese pianist Friedrich Gulda, when he came to Argentina, and soon became his only student, for which she first went to Europe. She recounts some wonderful memories of Gulda, and Gachot includes an excerpt of Gulda playing the last movement of Beethoven's op. 27, no. 2 sonata. There is another unforgettable clip of Gulda, playing ping-pong in short shorts, that is probably worth the $20 to buy the DVD by itself.
Trailer for Martha Argerich: Evening Talks
Argerich also speaks about the composers whose music she plays: of one whom she feels suit her style, she says, "Il m'aime" (He likes me). What you will not be prepared for is Argerich's levity, given how serious and intense her stage persona is, the wreath of dark hair, the pouty frown and furrowed brow. She has a wry laugh and even speaks about how Gulda's playing taught her about humor in music. At one point, she says that if she plays Liszt and Chopin on the same program, she feels like she always plays one well and the other not so well, as if one gets jealous of the other, as she puts it. Of course, a good part of the documentary is given over to clips, both old and more recent, of Argerich playing, and such playing! Excerpts of the big concertos -- the Liszt no. 1, the Chopin no. 1, and especially the Ravel G major and Prokofiev no. 3 -- are all absolutely astounding technically. There are also some video clips and pictures of her very young, including her legendary victory at the Geneva Competition (at age 16) and the first prize at the 1965 Chopin Competition (at age 24).
In addition to the documentary, there is 38 minutes of extra footage, complete tracks of music that was excerpted in the film. This includes a full performance of Witold Lutosławski's outrageous two-piano Variations on a Theme by Paganini, with the young pianist Mauricio Vallina, and three encores from a Zurich performance in 2001: a jaw-dropping Scarlatti sonata (the D minor one with the machine-gun repeated notes), a smoky Chopin mazurka, and the Capriccio movement of the second Bach partita.
For American readers interested in trying to hear Martha Argerich, she will play two concerts this month with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center: the Beethoven Triple Concerto (with the Capuçon brothers, tonight) and the Prokofiev 3rd concerto (August 14), under the baton of her ex-husband Charles Dutoit. She will supposedly also be back in the fall, for concerts in Philadelphia (October 2-4), playing both the Prokofiev 1st concerto and the Shostakovich 1st concerto, with Dutoit. They will bring the same program to Carnegie Hall on October 7. For other information, Andrys Basten keeps a meticulous list of Argerich's concert plans.
63' (extras, 38')