Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat, Op.19
Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37
Martha Argerich (piano)
Mahler Chamber Orchestra
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
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Martha Argerichs first recording of Beethovens 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 Hardings new band, here conducted by one of Hardings mentors, Claudio Abbado. The relative severity of sound and clipped phrasing may equate to a minor-key work, but theres an objectivity about Abbados 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 theres a faux quality here yes, the runs have terrific zip, the phrasing is unexaggerated, and theres bags of energy. But, wheres the soul? Not in the first movement, which is dryly recorded with little atmosphere; and while detail is uncommonly clear, theres 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 isnt it! Some of Argerichs 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; Argerichs 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; its 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; its an altogether finer performance than No.3 and uses a better-sounding piano. Theres 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.