MOZART Piano Concerti K365, 459 & 466. Argerich/Rabinovich (Teldec) – INKPOT
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Concerto No.20 in D minor, K.466
Martha Argerich piano
Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto
conducted by Alexandre Rabinovich
Concerto No.19 in F major, K.459
Alexandre Rabinovich piano/conductor
Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto
Concerto No.10 for two pianos and orchestra, K365
Alexandre Rabinovich · Martha Argerich pianos
Württemburgisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn conducted by Jorg Faerber
by Jonathan Yungkans
Mozart is not a composer whose music Martha Argerich has often visited. This has been our loss. She has a natural propensity for Mozart’s grace, his ever-shifting balance of light and shadow, and perfectly captures a smoldering quality that underlines much of his music. Moreover, she fans the music’s flames with sparks of wit, vivacity and humor – all too rare qualities in Mozart playing these days. With qualities like these, one would seriously wish that Argerich would record at least all the late concertos, and perhaps some of the middle ones to boot, not to mention the sonatas and other piano works.
These concertos, on the other hand, are a slightly different matter, and show how Argerich’s approach may have changed over the last 20 years. This disc should have been issued with a warning label for those who like their Mozart dainty and sporting perfect table manners. There is a headiness and urgency more in keeping with Argerich’s performances of Romantic repertoire, though not at the same level of intensity as in her Chopin, Schumann or Tchaikovsky. Conductor and pianist Alexandre Rabinovich, who has played much two-piano music with her and shares a penchant for propulsiveness, may have urged Argerich on to this effect.
This fleetness makes itself acutely felt in the D minor Concerto, K. 466. One of only two piano concertos Mozart wrote in a minor key, it possesses a heightened sense of drama that not only foretells Beethoven, but also fully evokes the dark world of his opera Don Giovanni. Rabinovich ups the ante still further, opening the concerto at a near-precipitous tempo, with growling lower strings and explosive outbursts from brass and timpani. Though he does not slight the mystery or pathos of Mozart’s writing, he also emphasizes a modicum of boldness that most conductors try to downplay. This approach will excite some listeners and bother others, depending on their individual tastes and openness of mind, but it is perfectly valid.
Argerich’s playing is not quite as edgy as Rabinovich’s conducting, but neither does it lack for contrast. The trademarks of her style are all in place – the bejeweled touch, whiplash-sharp attacks and sudden darkening of shade, turn of phrase or decrescendo that heightens and add distinction to passages. But while there is still taste and proportion, there is also more muscle and sinew than she has previously allowed herself in Classical repertoire. This is big, bold Mozart, and it is appropriate in this context that Argerich uses Beethoven’s cadenzas for this concerto. Anything less would seem too small-scale for this style of playing.
The other two concertos are not as successful. The emphatic approach that worked for K. 466 does not fit as well for the Concerto in F major, K. 459. This more light-hearted work needs charm and grace to succeed in performance, and unfortunately both are lacking here. Also, Rabinovich does not serve himself entirely well as soloist; his playing sounds artificial, as though he is thinking about the mechanics of what he is playing instead of interpreting the music. The concept behind having him perform this concerto may have been intriguing – have Argerich play one concerto, Rabinovich the next, then have them both play for a third – but in this case, the idea was better than its execution.
The Concerto in E-flat major for two pianos, K. 365, fares better. Jorg Faerber allows the orchestra to smile more than Rabinovich did, adding a measure of much-needed charm and elegance. There is also a calm and serenity in the Andante, despite the reasonably quick tempo preferred by the soloists, that allows the music to breathe and for us to enjoy the moment. The Rondeau is quick but playful, and we get some truly joyous playing out of the soloists, as though Argerich finally prevailed on Rabinovich to lighten up and have some fun.
Unfortunately, Rabinovich is playing first piano to Argerich’s second, which means he is calling many of the shots here. Although Argerich manages to shine through from time to time, and her subtle phrasing manages to leaven some of Rabinovich’s playing, there is still a mechanical quality from time to time that detracts from the proceedings. The going here is not as rough as it was in K. 459, and there are some interesting touches, especially in the slow movement, that I would not want to be without. But neither is this an entirely pleasant listening experience.
The extremely close miking and lack of hall ambience in the sonic picture does not help matters, either. There is clarity, but the instruments are so close that I feel as though the concertmaster’s bow is about to poke me in the face. As much as I enjoy hearing detail in recordings, I don’t have to have the music as microscopically illustrated as it is here. A recording location with a warmer sound would also help matters immensely.
So is this recording worth listening to? Yes. If you are willing to make allowances and open your thoughts of what Mozart’s music should sound like, two of the three concertos here are worth the effort. As much as we may listen to music out of pure enjoyment or out of a need for fulfillment, it does not hurt to have a performance challenge our preconceptions at least once in a while and let us consider new possibilities. In that sense, Argerich and Rabinovich have done us a service. You may not entirely like what they are doing, but you cannot fault them purely for the strength of their convictions.
821: 2.11.2000 Jonathan Yungkans
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