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CD Review

Early Live Recordings

Doremi 8030

Volume 3

Martha Argerich, piano
* Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra/Carl Melles
Doremi Legendary Treasures DHR8030 79:20
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These are live recordings coming very early in Martha Argerich's career. She was only sixteen(!) when she delivered this scorching version of the Liszt Sixth Hungarian Rhapsody before an astonished audience in Geneva in 1957, the year she won both the Busoni Competition and Geneva International Competition. The Beethoven sonata and Schumann Toccata came three years later in Cologne, and the Prokofiev Third was done also in Cologne, in December, 1965, the same year she won the Chopin Competition in Warsaw, which helped to elevate her to international superstar status.

All the performances here are remarkable in some way, but let me say this: yes, Argerich is always an interesting and exciting performer – even when she is a bit off the mark. Here she is "off the mark" in the Beethoven sonata and the Liszt Sixth Hungarian Rhapsody. That said, she is dazzling and quite thrilling at the same time in both those works. In the Beethoven Seventh Sonata, her fast tempos in the outer movements are breathtaking, to be sure, and while everything sparkles and scintillates and is vibrant and full of life with the humor and joy very much intact, there is a little too much fluff in Argerich's sometimes dainty keyboard patter. You can hardly criticize her for playing too fast in the first movement since Beethoven marked it Presto. In addition, it is certainly true that the composer's music is light here, but it also should exhibit some muscle and sinew. The inner movements are fine and overall the performance has much to offer, especially if you like your Beethoven served up with elegance and spirit and with a gossamer flow. Brendel, Buchbinder, Barenboim and others offer more mainstream alternatives, but Argerich is still of great interest.

Her Schumann Kinderszenen is simply splendid and, in fact, for a live performance it is absolutely impressive. Ditto for the Schumann Toccata. Argerich has always been an excellent interpreter of Schumann's music and this recording documents further testimony to that claim. The Liszt Sixth Hungarian Rhapsody is exciting in the closing section alright, but maybe a little over-the-top: she goes a bit too fast in the octaves and the music turns somewhat muddy in a few places. Still, it's a thrilling account of this colorful and virtuosic piece.

The Prokofiev Third, perhaps the artist's favorite concerto if we can judge by the number of performances and recordings of it by her, is quite splendid. Argerich would record the work for Deutsche Grammophon with Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic a year or so later and achieve great acclaim for the effort. This version is very similar to that account, but different from her EMI effort with Dutoit (EMI Classics CDC56654 ), and while the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra isn't the Berlin Philharmonic, it is quite fine under the baton of Carl Melles. Actually, I would take this account marginally over the Abbado/Berlin effort.

The sound reproduction is surprisingly good in all five works here. The album notes are very brief though informative. This is an important document in the career of one of the 20th and 21st century's greatest keyboard figures. With over seventy-nine minutes of music, this CD certainly warrants a very urgent recommendation!

Copyright © 2017, Robert Cummings