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Argerich and Friends Last Year

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Martha Argerich and Friends,
Live at the Lugano Festival 2010

(released on March 29, 2011)
EMI 0 70836 2 | 240'04"
We have recommended the series of discs from Martha Argerich's annual summer concerts in Lugano before. The elusive pianist is leading the tenth installment of the Swiss Progetto that bears her name right now: you can listen to some of those concerts via the streaming audio from France Musique. If you missed what she and her merry band played last summer, you can listen to it on this affordably priced set of three jam-packed CDs from EMI.

Last summer, as in many places in the world, Argerich was celebrating the Chopin and Schumann anniversaries, beginning with her own performance of Chopin's first piano concerto, with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana and conductor Jacek Kaspszyk. This performance stands up to either of La Argerich's previous recordings of the work, with Claudio Abbado and the London Symphony Orchestra (DG, made shortly after her triumph at the Warsaw competition) or Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (EMI, made thirty-some years later): it is mercurial in the way that an Argerich performance generally is, and conductor and orchestra had better be on their toes. Schumann is represented as Argerich partners with each of the Capuçon brothers, in the first violin sonata (with Renaud, smoky and debonair) and the op. 70 Adagio and Allegro (with Gautier, sebaceous and oozing). As usual with Argerich's programming, there are many rarities, including three piano quintets by Korngold, Granados, and Schnittke; the first two are lovely discoveries, and the last one is an intense, enigmatic, sometimes ear-grinding, poly-stylistic experience.

Most pianists love to play with other pianists, in four-hands or multiple-piano pieces, and Argerich is no different. We have admired many of the pieces and arrangements of this kind she has championed and performed over the years, always orchestral in scope. Last summer, she and her colleagues unearthed Brahms's Variations on a Theme of Schumann (for two pianos), Bartók's sonata for two pianos and percussion (a visceral, sometimes earth-shaking interpretation led by Argerich), transcriptions of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite (a madcap version for three pianos, including strange effects like spidery strummed or plucked piano strings plus a climactic bit for triangle, by Carlo Maria Griguoli, who is also one of the performers) and Liszt's Les Préludes (a fascinating version for two pianos, with Argerich at the helm), and Percy Grainger's toe-tapping Fantasy on Porgy and Bess (for two pianos, with Gabriela Montero on primo). These are all pieces it would be excellent to hear more in live performance, and at this price the set gets an easy recommendation.

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