Beethoven
Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat, Op.19
Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37
Martha Argerich (piano)

Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Claudio Abbado

Recorded in Teatro Comunale, Ferrara, Italy – Concerto No.2 in February 2000, Concerto No.3 in February 2004
CD No: DG 477 5026
Duration: 64 minutes
Reviewed: January 2005
Martha Argerich’s first recording of Beethoven’s C minor Concerto is coupled with her third of the B flat. No.3 comes first on the CD and introduces the somewhat ‘authentic’, if rather contrived sound of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Daniel Harding’s new band, here conducted by one of Harding’s mentors, Claudio Abbado. The relative severity of sound and clipped phrasing may equate to a minor-key work, but there’s an objectivity about Abbado’s conducting that marshals his forces well enough without ever suggesting that he is really inside the music.
So too the soloist. Argerich enters impetuously and alternates fortissimos that can only be described as ‘banging’ with more intimate hues and dynamics (despite a wiry-sounding piano); but there’s a faux quality here … yes, the runs have terrific zip, the phrasing is unexaggerated, and there’s bags of energy. But, where’s the soul? Not in the first movement, which is dryly recorded with little atmosphere; and while detail is uncommonly clear, there’s a matter-of-factness to the music-making that lacks the right kind of Beethovenian spirit – difficult to define if easy enough to recognise: and this isn’t it! Some of Argerich’s gabbling leaves one unimpressed: plenty of muscle but little inner strength, let alone profound engagement with the music. A dry run.
The slow movement is rather more involved and involving, however; Argerich’s flowing solo statement is neither dawdled nor fragmented, and the orchestra finds a degree of expression that rarely impinged into the first movement. Argerich dialogues with the orchestra with a chamber-like intimacy and her touch is compelling in its tenderness. The finale, like the first movement, if to a lesser extent, is a bit too blustery; it’s all too easily achieved, scales and trills have a Scarlatti-like brilliance: but this is Beethoven and, not only that, he is being momentous. The closing pages, effervescent enough, lack wit.
The B flat Concerto (actually No.1 in compositional order and not the earliest piano concerto Beethoven wrote) is heard in sound slightly warmer and more dimensional; it’s an altogether finer performance than No.3 and uses a better-sounding piano. There’s a tensile quality to the orchestral playing, and a heartfelt lyricism that is largely missing in the C minor work; and how dynamic Argerich is. The outer movements are given joyfully ebullient accounts, the orchestra vying for attention in the most positive and partnering way; the written-much-later cadenza is both lucid and electrifying. The central Adagio is exceptionally beautiful and expressive.

 

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