English profiles

Argerich / Rabinovitch Bonn, 1.10.2002

Martha Argerich

So, now I've found a bit of time to write a more detailed report on how those two played on the first of October. I awaited this recital with a mixture of apprehension and fear - fear because she may not turn up after all, and apprehension to how the pieces would sound compared to their CD recordings that I own.

Well, first surprise - they didn't play the "Visions de l´Amen" de Messiaen which was scheduled for the second half of the concert but replaced it by the Haydn-Variations op. 56b (Brahms) and the first
suite for two pianos op. 5 (Rachmaninov). I have to say that I didn't regret that at all; I had listened to the Messiaen before the concert (as a sort of preparation) and didn't find it that interesting, especially more than 30 minutes of it. Call me conservative, but I can only digest that sort of music in small doses.

So, here they go - La Martha comes upon the stage in her usual swagger, talking animatedly to Rabinovitch and generally gives the impression of going to a nice dinner among friends rather than to a recital in a concert hall packed full of people (it was sold out, by the way). Rabinovitch - pardon me for this, but that's what I thought at that moment - really resembles a scarecrow. He, of course, had
brought his hairdryer-like hand-warmer with him, and Argerich had to wait a little until it was properly adjusted (seemed to me a somewhat ridiculous procedure, but well, if the results are ok...). They didn't start, as one might expect, with Mozart's sonata for 2 pianos KV 448 but with the big Brahms sonata for 2 pianos op. 34b. This symphony-like work demands much from both pianists, and Argerich seemed much more up to the task than her partner. He had the first part, by the way, and everything that came from the left half of the hall didn't convince me. Blurred runs, whimsical ritardandi and sporadic dynamical outbursts were what Rabinovitch produced. This was somehow softened by Argerich's own, immaculate and spontaneous approach to her part, but couldn't be overlooked nevertheless. Especially as in the last few weeks I have heard her play that work rather often on tape, with Zilberstein and Béroff, and found those versions much more to my liking. With Rabinovitch, the virtuoso passages were taken more slowly - apart from when Argerich took the lead - and the two pianists were not always playing very well together. Also when approaching a climax, it wasn't done in a linear way but sounded a bit rhapsodical. This was at least true for the first and the two last movements; the second was somewhat better, even if Rabinovitch had the tendance of drowning everything in his pedal.

The Mozart sonata that followed confirmed my impressions - Argerich's part sparkled and introduced subtle nuances, shading of tonal colours and a singing tone that Rabinovitch lacked altogether. If it wasn't as disastrous as the sonata she played with Eschenbach some weeks ago in Lübeck (see my report on this), it wasn't a memorable Mozart performance. Her Mozart sonatas with Kissin or Freire were much, much better - technically perfect, with clear musical phrasing and an elegant (at least with Freire) way of playing together. - So, altogether, it was rather disillusioning; much has been said of
Argerich's partners and why she chooses to play with them, so I won't repeat that again, but it started to be true here, too. But well, the concert was far from being finished.

After the intermission came the Haydn-variations - and to my surprise they were played much better than the sonata before, even if Rabinovitch failed when the technical demands started to go up. But
they played together very well and gave every variation its own character, making this so-often played piece a new experience. Maybe it was because it's a somewhat easier piece, and also easier to convey musically as it doesn't demand a big-scale-approach like the sonata with its huge structural difficulties.

The Rachmaninov-suite that now followed was the best part of the concert, in my opinion. Fluid, virtuoso piano playing with sparkling details all along the way, turning this a bit salon-like music into a captivating experience. There they interacted really well, maybe that music suits Rabinovitch better than the classical composers. In any case, I have rarely heard this suite played better, and as I had the
privilege of a view on Argerich's hands the whole evening, that was a real treat, seeing her speeding along the keyboard and making quick jumps with an ease that belied any difficulty involved. Amazing how she does that at her age - a real phenomenon. She certainly is one of the best Rachmaninov players I ever heard; if only she would play some more of his works...well, everyone can dream.

The applause was, of course, deafening, and that lead to two encores: the first being the second movement of the second suite by Rachmaninov (Valse), played fast but noticeably slower than she does with Freire; to watch her play the ultra-fast repetitions that the piece demands was awe-inspiring nevertheless. The second encore was an excerpt from Ravel's "Ma mère l´oye", I think it was "Laideronette". I didn't like that so much, they played it quite harsh and unforgiving, much less sensitive than with Chung (in Beppu) or with Freire. What produced some laughs before they started playing was that - as it was a work for piano 4 hands - Argerich had to seat herself on the hair-dryer-seat which was way to high for her, and she signaled that to the public and chuckled a bit about it.

All in all, an exceptional second half and a first that I'm likely to forget quite soon...wishing she would come and play with Freire here in Germany at some time in the future. But the next concert's already
scheduled - in Cologne with the Kremerata Baltica (Shostakovich).