Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3, Ravel: Piano Concerto No 2, Gaspard de la Nuit – Martha Argerich, Claudio Abbado, Berliner Philharmoniker

  • Genre: Classical
  • Live recording
  • Released: 1995 on Deutsche Grammophon Records

Today’s album of the day is a delicious trio of Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich’s passionate performances from 1967 to 1975, with Claudio Abbado as conductor, and the Berliner Philharmoniker. We are dealing with top stuff here. Known for her passionate performances and occasional disregard for the musical score, she much prefers to imbue every note with soul, instead of adhering staunchly to the composer’s wishes.

Her stunning performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 3 feels like zapping myself repeatedly by poking my finger through a live socket. Frisson after frisson, this wild electricity current running down the spine! It’s cheeky and exuberant, with some very unexpected poignant moments. Some parts of it sound like a drunken man lurching and falling onto the floor! Or galloping, mad horses…

Next, we move on to Ravel’s compositions, the first of which is Piano Concerto in G Major. The dramatic entrance of the 1st movement is interspersed with typical delicacy, all fluttery, swooning, weaving its melody beautifully with the harp…then the demented version of Argerich tosses her head and comes to life, ending on an explosion. Soon we enter the 2nd movement, an elegaic, almost funereal presence that tip toes in and out of the brooding silence, swelling into an awesome symphony, but which is only a mere breeze – we are treated to a boisterous 3rd movement that has a witty moment, where the wind section comically deflates, before gathering speed and ending on a thunderous note.

The last performance, Maurice Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit is haunting but full bodied with light, the lower keys handled with such subtlety that they are reimagined as smoky, halluncinatory plumes, the shadows flirting exclusively with the corners of your eyes. It’s precisely this reason why her rendition freaks the shit out of me. I thought I’d stumbled upon the holy grail when listening to Alexander Tharaud’s version, but Argerich commands an ethereal sensuality that’s not present with Tharaud, which is especially fitting for the 2nd movement. Alas, she leaves the listener dangling desperately at the edge of the seat, wanting more, more, and more…

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