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 Recording of the Week, Martha Argerich and Friends Live from Lugano

It is hard to describe any new recording as a ‘must-have’, but the combination of a wide range of repertoire, outstanding performances and incredible value for money make Martha Argerich’s 3-disc 2012 Lugano Festival box about as close as I can ever remember seeing.

Martha Argerich
Martha Argerich

Having all but given up solo recitals, the great Argentinian pianist’s month-long annual festival in southern Switzerland is probably the musical highlight of her year. There, accompanied by friends, family and protégés, a programme of mainly chamber music takes place, the cream of which each year is recorded by EMI and subsequently released the following spring. They have been doing this since 2001, and I look forward to each instalment immensely. 2012 has to be one of the best yet.

The first disc starts and ends with Mozart, beginning with Argerich and Maria João Pires performing the Sonata in D major for piano duet, K381. It is a fun and cheerful work which at times (particularly in the last movement) sounds more like an opera overture than a sonata. Pires and Argerich are electrifying, performing with infectious panache and clearly having such a good time – you almost expect them to burst out laughing at the end!

Argerich’s only solo performance on this set is Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25, K403, which ends the first disc. It is a stunning reading, every note carefully thought about, with touch, balance and phrasing immaculate and her beautiful lyricism reminding us exactly why she is widely regarded as one of the finest pianists on the planet.

In between she accompanies cellist Gautier Capuçon in Schumann’s elegant and romantic Fünf Stücke im Volkston, while Argerich’s violist daughter Lyda Chen is joined by the Maisky family (Mischa the world-renowned cellist, and his two children Lily and Sascha) for a performance of Mahler’s haunting (and rarely heard) Piano Quartet. This sense of friends and family dominates throughout and creates such a perfect and relaxed atmosphere that the music-making is really exceptional.

Disc 2 begins with Argerich and fellow pianist Nicholas Angelich performing Brahms’s Variations on a Theme of Haydn in its two-piano version. It is a work which she has recorded at least five times and clearly loves, and the range of virtuosity, grandeur, and sensitivity which they bring to the performance here is memorable and profound.

Elsewhere there is a fine performance of Prokofiev’s 2nd Violin Sonata with Renaud Capuçon and Argerich, an excellent account of Dvorak’s 2nd Piano Quartet, and also a Piano Quintet by Medtner which I didn’t know at all. Nikolai Medtner was a younger contemporary of Rachmaninov, admired by him, and like him an outstanding pianist. Much of this work, however, probably sounds more Germanic than Russian – perhaps like Brahms with a little more harmonic daring. Definitely a work I’ll come back to though, and played here with complete commitment, authority and no shortage of refinement.

Multiple-piano works make up the remainder of this set, with the Martucci Theme & Variations in E flat particularly captivating. The version of Debussy’s La Mer for three pianos also comes off perhaps surprisingly well (I was worried it was all going to sound a bit of a murky mess, but actually it is the opposite – you can hear almost every detail of the composer’s wonderful score!)

All this essentially for the price of 1 CD, then – a true ‘must-have’ if ever there was one! Sound samples as usual via the link below.

Also worthy of note is that to coincide with this release we’ve negotiated special prices on all the former years of the Lugano festival, as well as the three sets which made up the ‘Martha Argerich Edition’ released two years ago to celebrate her 70th birthday. Full details here. Enjoy!

Martha Argerich (piano), Mischa Maisky (cello), Renaud Capuçon (violin), Gautier Capuçon (cello) and others

Available Formats: 3 CDs, MP3, FLAC