"Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3, Ravel: Piano Concerto in G"
Deutsche Grammophon (1996)
1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die
Anyone who suggests that an orchestra could perform a symphony without the guidance of a conductor will be immediately whacked over the head by anyone who knows anything about the craft. Keeping a body of instrumentalists that large in line is a tough job. That’s why listening to Martha Argerich play with the Berlin Philharmonic is so interesting.
Moon points out in his discussion on the performance of Ravel’s “Piano Concerto in G” that Argerich “freeze(s) the entire Berlin Philharmonic in its tracks” by altering the rhythm a fraction to her liking, and thereby forcing the orchestra to fall in line with her. Not being an expert on Ravel, it’s tough for me to detect the difference between Argerich’s version and what it “should be,” but I understand Moon’s point after listening to the entire album: Argerich is a leader.
Moon says that the philharmonic must obey the whims of Argerich’s interpretation. This is a little misleading; it's actually Claudio Abbado, the conductor, who must make all the adjustments to the pace to fit Argerich's needs. He deserves special credit; keeping one ear on the piano and then instantly translating it to the orchestra has got to be tough. In a way, Argerich is pulling all of the stings as the star of the show.
And a star Argerich is. There’s no doubt that the pianist is the highlight of the performance. The winner of the 1957 Geneva International Music Competition, the Argentine virtuoso was 26 when she recorded the works of Prokofiev and Ravel in Berlin. Her playing predominantly stands out within the recording, almost to the point where it seems she is leading the orchestra (and realistically, she is somewhat). During the first movement of the playful Profokiev piece, her fleet fingers build up into mini-crescendos that the backing musicians follow up on. Towards the end of the piece, around 7:20, Argerich flexes her virtuosity by adding some circus-esque flair.
Overall, Ravel’s “Piano Concerto in G” allows Argerich to show the most range. It begins with an opening movement that Moon accurately compares to “Rhapsody in Blue,” playful and light, before entering a much mellower second movement. The piece wraps up with a short third movement that is even more excited than the opener.
Listening to a virtuoso like Argerich, I can understand why a conductor might be hesitant to work with someone of her stature. Whether intentionally or not, a bit of that international acclaim has to go to her head, and as a result, she has no problem taking liberties and testing her cohorts’ abilities.
INTERESTING FACT: Dictatorships have probably destroyed the careers of many talented artists that the world will never hear as result of iron curtains. Such is not the case with Argerich. President Juan Perón (debatably a dictator, definitely a fascist sympathizer) appointed Argerich’s parents diplomatic posts in Vienna so that their daughter could study music in Europe.