C1847. KLAUS TENNSTEDT Cond. NDR S.O., w. MARTHA ARGERICH: Piano Concerto in a (Schumann), Live Performance, 12 May, 1980, Stuttgart; Piano Concerto #2 in f (Chopin), Live Performance, 18 June, 1979, Kiel. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-1063. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“For a time Martha Argerich and Klaus Tennstedt both recorded for the same label, EMI, but they never collaborated in the studio. These two live readings from 1979 and 1980 are the first to come my way, and the fascination derives from seeing how two artists, one volatile by nature and the other capable of catching fire, would work together. Will they mutually shine or incinerate? Argerich in my experience controls the performance when she is a concerto soloist, and her most notable conductors on disc, such as Claudio Abbado and Charles Dutoit, were relatively calm in their musical temperament (when I heard Argerich play Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto #3 under Dutoit, he seemed more than willing to hand her the helm).
EMI mostly used Tennstedt, when he was assigned to be an accompanist to violin concertos, but Testament released three piano concertos (by Beethoven, Mozart, and Prokofiev) under him live with the Berlin Philharmonic. Adding Chopin and Schumann is significant for his discography. The Schumann Piano Concerto gives the conductor more to do than the Chopin Second, so it draws the most interest as a collaboration.
Argerich pounces hard on the soloist’s opening flourish, but she is well known as a past master in this concerto which she has recorded multiple times, and she varies her touch in dramatic, highly personal ways. She is as capable of lyricism as of power. What stands out is how well she organizes a solo part that can seem too improvisd for its own good - Schumann had consciously set out to invent a new concerto form separate from Mozart and Beethoven. Rhapsody was the key, along with a very free kind of development, and he struggled before getting everything right.
Argerich’s temperament is keenly attuned to Schumann, and I think no one organizes every aspect of the concerto better than she does. In her previous recordings the most prominent conductor was Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Teldec), but Tennstedt, at his inspired best, lifts the orchestral part to a higher elevation. Where Harnoncourt fell in line with Argerich’s temperament, Tennstedt has his own voice, and it is as varied and musically sure-footed as the pianist’s. In the finale, which is prone to some lurching transitions, he and Argerich supply exuberant energy with complete control over tempo relationships. The recorded sound is very good FM stereo, capturing every gesture from Argerich and the orchestra. Even if you own her in this work, something very special happened on this occasion.
In the Chopin Second Piano Concerto my favorite Argerich recording has been the one with Dutoit and the Montréal Symphony on EMI from 1998, coupled with an equally beautiful reading of Concerto #1. Here Tennstedt isn’t given much to do, but his accompaniment is more closely tied to Argerich’s phrasing than Dutoit’s is, and the tutti passages are more musically handled. As for Argerich herself, the two interpretations are very alike, but she delivers a hard ping on some high notes under Dutoit, while the piano sounds better balanced from Kiel, and the recorded sound is fully comparable to EMI’s.
Just a comment on why Argerich is so superb in the Chopin concerto, which of course has received many great recordings. As I hear it, she accepts Chopin's invitation to explore the fantasy of the solo part. Even great pianists sometimes fall into a general ‘Chopin style’ that dictates the mood and flow of their playing, but Argerich displays a refreshing spontaneity, which comes from complete confidence in her own instincts. She uses the printed score as a jumping-off place for a long, uninterrupted rhapsody. She also has total confidence in her technique, and unlike pianists who plan in advance to show off their very soft and very loud playing (as Lang Lang does in his rather impressive account of Concerto #2 on DG), Argerich makes no overt display of technique for its own sake. As a result, we keep following her ideas and feelings more closely. There may be more sparkling accounts of both concertos, but none that ‘speak’ through the music as she does.
The North German Radio Symphony in Hamburg was headed by Tennstedt only from 1979 to 1981, when these performances took place, and the playing is quite satisfying. Yves St. Laurent’s remastering is clean and well balanced. The audiences are quiet; there’s no final applause. With Argerich and Tennstedt in such wonderful form, both concertos are a ‘must-listen’ even if you own previous readings by her.”
- Huntley Dent, FANFARE
“Argerich is a genuine living legend of the classical music world. But she has never particularly tried to cultivate an image as one. Or at least, not in conventional terms.
The story of Martha Argerich is a story about ferocious natural genius. Argerich cannot help speaking music,
internalizing a score and performing it with such depth and range and emotion and risk-taking that even non-aficionados are left agog. She has a photographic memory, able to reproduce music perfectly after a single hearing. Technical challenges pose no problems; ‘I have a thing for octaves', she said, laughing, in a 1972 TV interview, of passages like the thunderous close of Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto, which most pianists find the stuff of anxiety dreams. Schumann’s Toccata is supposed to be among the hardest pieces in the repertory; Argerich, who particularly adores Schumann, used it for years as a warm-up. (‘Not anymore', she says and laughs. ‘Now, I just start. I don’t warm up') Reaching far beyond mere technique is the artistry that underlies each performance, making you feel you are hearing her largely familiar and selective repertory of Bach, Chopin, Prokofiev and Ravel for the first time.
Argerich has a photographic memory, able to reproduce music perfectly after a single hearing. ‘Only the greatest artists are able to maintain the freshness of discovery with the depth of thoughtfulness', said Daniel Barenboim, the conductor and pianist, in a recent email from Europe. ‘Martha Argerich is one of them. From the beginning, she wasn’t a mechanic[al] virtuoso, only concerned with dexterity and speed. She mastered those as well, of course, but her fantasy enabled her to create a very unique quantity and quality of sounds on the piano. There is nobody today that I have known as long as Martha', Barenboim said. 'Our relationship is based on music, of course, but there is also a very human love that connects us'."
- Anne Midgette, THE WASHINGTON POST, 2 Dec., 2016