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Pianos and Pianists - Consultant Editor Ates Orga

CD Spotlight

'... an iconoclast who plays how, when and with whom she wants ...'


on Martha Argerich's new
Bartok and Prokofiev release
from EMI

In today's pianistic pantheon, the name of Argentinian-born Martha Argerich ought to be considered virtually synonymous with prodigious virtuosity, imagination, and unbridled spontaneity. That she is an instinctive player, rather than a wholly intellectual one, possibly accounts for her playing being so stimulating. For myself, I would want to own almost any recording of hers that becomes available. In so many ways, she stands in the musical world as a phenomenon who makes her own rules, an iconoclast who plays how, when and with whom she wants. In a discography not especially voluminous, one recalls in particular her amazing solo and concerted Ravel, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Schumann, and Tchaikovsky.

Argerich previously recorded the Prokofiev Third Concerto in 1967 with Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic Originally coupled with Ravel's G major Concerto, that performance, long considered one of the high points in her discography, is still available [DG 447 438-2, re-packaged 1995 coupled with Gaspard de la nuit]. Prokofiev No 1 and Bartok No 3 are first commercial ventures for her in this repertory, and, interestingly, the source is neither DG nor Decca/London but rather EMI.

What is so remarkable about her playing, setting her apart from so many pianists today, is her ability to to modulate her tone and shade her musical materials, even at top-level dynamics (other pianists simply clatter). Plenty of name performers haul off on their Prokofiev and Bartok, tight fisted all the way. Amid all the palpable virtuosity, Argerich still manages to elicit a lyrical line. In the slow movement of the Bartok, gorgeously shaped, one even senses the undercurrent of tragedy.

Charles Dutoit, always competent in his lean, cool accompaniments, is not nearly so riveting as his superb soloist. One might wish the orchestral playing to have had more expressive character and colour, as well as sweep and abandon in the rhapsodic moments of the Bartok. There are, to be sure, fine passages (the conclusion of the Bartok is especially invigorating), and Dutoit's brass make a vivid impression. But it's Abbado, with his sharper-edged support in Argerich's earlier recording of Prokofiev Three [quicker by two minutes] who's the more compelling conductor - not to mention the silkier tone of the Berlin Philharmonic strings.

The transparent reproduction is extremely clean. Despite a slightly too distant orchestra and a somewhat reticent string body balanced against a fractionally closer piano, the perspective, with its resultant attenuated bass response, is certainly not unrealistic if one imagines oneself listening near the back of the auditorium.

Copyright © Igor Kipnis, August 20th 1999

Bartok: Piano Concerto No 3, Sz 119
7'17"/10'45"/6'42"- TT 24'44"
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No 1 in D flat, Op 10
6'57"/4'34"/4'25"- TT15'56"
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No 3 in C, Op 26
9'39"/9:'39"/9'47" - TT 29'5"

Martha Argerich, piano
Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, Charles Dutoit

Recorded: October 1997
Venue: l'Eglise de St Eustache, Montreal

Executive Producer: Jurg Grand
Producer: David Groves
Balance Engineer: John Dunkerley
Editor: Caroline Haigh

EMI Classics CDC 5 56654 2 DDD stereo. TT - 70:12

Liner notes: Julian Haylock & Annie Dutoit
Booklet photographs: Stephanie Argerich



Internationally known as a performer on the harpsichord, clavichord, fortepiano and modern piano (this last as a member of the Kipnis-Kushner Duo, one piano, four hands), Igor Kipnis has recorded over 80 albums, 55 of them solo, in addition to receiving numerous honours, including six Grammy nominations, a Deutsche Schallplatten prize, and an honorary doctorate from Illinois Wesleyan University. Keyboard magazine, in its readers' polls, has three times named him 'Best Harpsichordist' and twice 'Best Classical Keyboardist'.

A frequent guest on both television and radio (he has had his own programme on New York's WQXR), Igor Kipnis has edited music anthologies for Oxford University Press, and is at present working on a biography of his singer father, the bass Alexander Kipnis, to be published by Amadeus Press. He is a faculty member of the Mannes College of Music, where he lectures on historical piano recordings, and as a performer gives frequent masterclasses devoted to keyboard instruments.

Igor Kipnis has long been an avid record collector, specializing in piano and historical performances, and his reviews and articles, many of which deal with the piano, have appeared in a numerous publications, including International Piano Quarterly, International Classical Record Collector, Early Music America, Goldberg, Audio, Schwann/Opus, FI, Stereophile, Musical America, Opus, Stereo Review, American Record Guide, Classical, Chamber Music Magazine, Listen, Clavier, and The Yale Review.

Visit the Igor Kipnis web site for further biographical information and an illustrated discography:


The Critics

...'minor composer,' 'complete musician'...

'In Russia there is only Prokofiev who deserves mention - though on second thought one might perhaps question whether even he does. He is quite clever and accomplished, but without much personality or definite convictions, and is consequently very uncertain of his direction.'

'... he stood out in almost melodramatic relief against the dim, circumambient, neutral mass of negligible humanity, like a lighthouse in the midst of a stormy sea. [Bartok] hardly existed as a personality, but his impersonality was tremendous - he was the living incarnation and embodiment of the spirit of music. He was pure spirit, in fact, and his frail, intense and delicate physique gave the impression of something ethereal and disembodied, like a flame burning in oxygen. No need to inquire, no need to know, the cause of his death: he consumed himself, burnt himself entirely away in the fire of his genius ...'

- Cecil Gray (1895-1951, Scottish composer, writer and critic) : A Survey of Contemporary Music, London 1924 (Prokofiev); Musical Chairs or Between Two Stools, London 1948 (Bartok)

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