The miracle that is Martha Argerich
Martha Argerich with Yuri Temirkanov and the St Petersburg Philharmonic at the Royal Festival Hall today.Prokofiev Concerto n.3,Khachaturian Spartacus,Shostakovich Symphony n.5.Thursday at S.Carlo in Naples.
Some years ago Shura Cherkassky used to play regularly in my theatre in Rome . On his triumphant return to Paris there was a double page article in Le Monde de la Musique under the title:”The Man I Love” signed Martha Argerich It was the same love that was felt in a sold out Festival Hall yesterday. Love for her by an adoring public but also her undying love for the piano. So unusual these days when many artists appearing before the public with their ungrateful percussive tone and lack of communication seem to almost hate it . It was most evident in a ravishing performance of Schumann`s Widmung. Astonishingly a new addition to her repertoire.(How I would love to hear her play the much neglected Blumenstuck)
The whispered opening allowing her to give a passionate and tumultuous final outpouring before disappearing as it had started in a few heartrending phrases. Every note pregnant with meaning,with a subtle rubato and astonishing sense of colour reminiscent of that great lieder singer Elisabeth Schwarzkopf . Totally seducing not only the audience but also the superb musicians of this magnificent orchestra.
This as a thank you for the ovation she received after a truly astonishing performance of the Prokofiev Concert. A young womans performance all the more astonishing when you realise that she has recently celebrated her 75th birthday at the Wigmore Hall with her lifelong friend Alberto Portugheis.
The same liquid sound and flexibility allied to a musicianly sense of line where every note speaks that was also so memorable a few months ago in the Albert Hall in a duet encore with her childhood friend Daniel Barenboim after a memorable performance if Liszt n.1.
In the dress rehearsal that aristocrat of conductors that is Temirkanov asked Martha afterwards how she would prefer some passages and what tempos she would like. With great humility and simplicity she said she did not know but what did he think. He suggested a slightly slower tempo in the coda of the last movement and asked whether she would like a long or short final note to the second movement. Of course she could not know she lived for the moment ,listening intently to every sound and adapting and adjusting with her great musicianship guiding her in her voyage of discovery. Just as Cherkassky and the legendary musicians of the past have done. Yet another title in Le Monde de la Musique about Cherkassky with the title “I listen,I feel,I transmit ” just as Martha was doing before our very eyes.
Transcendental feats of virtuosity with a rhythmic impetus that the orchestra had a hard job to beat.Such clarity in those bare opening scales but with an energy that was totally mesmerising.Some wonderful colours matching perfectly the superb wind players .In fact the final flute scale in the very atmospheric orchestral encore was exactly matched by Martha in the concerto.
The end of the second movement with such perfect timing it brought a wry smile from Temirkanov.The speed allied to the rock steady rhythm and intricate detail of the last movement coda was breathtaking and took the conductor and maybe also Martha totally by surprise.
The concert had started with the theme of the television programme The Ondine Line and this Spartacus by Khachaturian showed off the sumptuous strings of this magnificent orchestra.Never slipping into the vulgar but under Temirkanov we were assured of a refined nobility in the great Russian tradition.
The same was true with the great opening statement of Shostakovich `s Fifth Symphony .The scherzo played straight and all the more effective for that.The long poignant murmurings of the slow movement where the long lines were tightly held together.The last movement was the great moment for the brass to bring this monumental work to a shattering ending. If only there was a magic carpet to carry me off to hear it all again .Instead of having to consult the BA timetable to Naples!