Argerich Plays Chopin

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Our Full Rotation this week marks the 200th birthday of Chopin with a collection of previously unreleased radio recordings from 1959 and 1967 by pianist Martha Argerich.

Monday, March 1 is Frédéric Chopin's 200th birthday, and the music world is celebrating with a flood of new recordings. This collection, by Argentinean pianist Martha Argerich, winner of the 1965 International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, is a particular standout. It comes at the start of what has turned out to be one of the most exciting and frustrating careers in history: exciting because Argerich is one of the greatest pianists alive, and frustrating because she refuses to give solo recitals, instead preferring collaborative musical work. That makes her rare solo recordings all the more valued.

At the center of this collection are eight mazurkas, the stylized Polish folk dances in triple meter that are perhaps the most difficult of Chopin’s works because of their subtlety. Their dance-like character is often just hinted at and Argerich displays a firm grasp of their rhythmic design, allowing the tempos to ebb and flow without making the listener seasick. Particular standouts include the C Major, Op. 24, No. 2, a bold dance in gleaming colors, and the D Major, Op. 33, No. 2, a cheerfully nationalistic work in which she adds some sparkling trills.

The collection opens with the Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, a work made famous by its appearance in the Roman Polanski film The Pianist. Argerich’s version has sweep and authority as she maintains intensity in even the quietest passages. Also included are a pair of brooding Nocturnes, the Etude in C-sharp, Op. 10 No. 4, and to conclude, the Sonata in B Minor, an epic and impulsive work. In Argerich’s hands, the first movement becomes a storm of passions while the finale is unbridled in its energy. She also finds time to linger and savor the poetry, taking the Largo movement at a measured pace and letting the B major and minor keys play out in a struggle to the finish.

Culled from various radio recordings made in Berlin and Cologne in 1959 and 1967, the mono sound can seem flat by today’s standards but it never obscures the brilliance of Argerich’s playing.

Argerich Plays Chopin

Martha Argerich, piano

Deutsche Grammophon 001396002

Buy this recording at Arkivmusic.com

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