Martha Argerich; Nelson Freire
Deutsche Grammophon 477 8570
Back in the days before TV, radio and stereo recordings, inconceivable to the younger generation but really not that long ago, the only way to hear an orchestral piece was at a concert hall. For that reason composers reduced scores to single or two piano arrangements in order to be performed in the home. The other reason for 2 piano versions was so aspiring pianists could practise piano concertos with the 2nd piano, the orchestra, played by the teacher.
Argerich, the firebrand Argentinean virtuoso, now in her 70’s and still full of her powers, and Brazilian Nelson Freire who is a bit younger and was a child prodigy (who I saw playing as a teenager the Liszt Concerto under Rudolf Kempe), here combine forces at the Grosses Festspielhaus of Salzburg. These two have been playing together for years and have a wonderful compatibility and chemistry.
A carefully selected program from the classic to early and post Romantic and modern pieces gives a good cross section of what can be achieved in this instrumental mode. Brahms’ Haydn Variations where the composer is in one of his sunniest moods and at his most inventive, is particularly suited to this version as it reveals the many structural intricacies that tend to be underplayed in the orchestra. It is a lovingly caressed and detailed performance. With the Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances, a piece written by a piano virtuoso, the players have a chance to show deliberate bravura eliciting a strong audience reaction. Their perennial showstopper, Ravel’s La Valse, conjures up many shades of mood and orchestral colour from the charm of a Strauss waltz to the menacing undertones of war. It ends in a gigantic explosion of sound followed by a gigantic explosion of applause.