“Great” is an often overused and mis-applied word, but is unquestionably appropriate in describing Martha Argerich.
The great Argentinian pianist was born on June 5, 1941, which makes her 71 years old today.
Her appearances are always events, partly because they are relatively rare. Every few years, her name comes up on a local program, but often she bows out instead of performing (or as is frequently said, she is available for a limited number of cancellations).
So why do presenting organizations continue to schedule her when they can? Because she is, in a word, great.
If I were forced to choose only one pianist’s recordings to listen to for the rest of my life, they’d be hers. The only time I’ve seen her in person was back in 1999 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, playing the Chopin Piano Concerto No. 1 with Emmanuel Krivine conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It may not be a “great” concerto according to those who rank such things, but hearing Ms. Argerich perform Chopin in person was a joy and a privilege which I will not forget.
I missed her most recent appearance with the LA Phil in 2009 when she played the Ravel Piano Concerto in G. Mark Swed writing in his review for the Los Angeles Times, said that, “The slow movement is maybe the sexiest thing Ravel ever wrote, and this was — no maybe about it — the sexiest performance it has ever received.”
Not inclined to believe Mr. Swed? Well then, here’s this from the late Alan Rich about the same concert:
I spoke of ecstasy . . . Then there is the slow movement of Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto: a quietly unfolding lyric line for the piano alone, untroubled, utterly joyous. At a certain point, as if the most natural thing in the world, a flute joins in, then others. Nothing breaks the quiet, loving…yes, ecstasy. That’s the way Martha Argerich played it last week here. Sure, it was thrilling, the way those iron fingers of hers shot out and made ice sculptures out of Ravel’s rhythms in the outer movements , but it was that slow movement, where you began by listening and then, without noticing, you found yourself breathing in the rhythm of the music itself.
(Alan Rich, So I’ve Heard (blog): March 22, 2009)
Another quote from Mr. Rich, this time describing her 2007 performance of the Prokofiev 3rd Piano Concerto with Charles Dutoit (her ex-husband) and the LA Phil:
“Martha Argerich is a force of nature, pure and undiminished. Perhaps it’s true that she cancels out of many of her engagements; she has been ill a lot in recent years. But when she does appear, in the condition she was in last Thursday night at Disney Hall – boy oh boy, does she perform! She drove through the Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto on all eight cylinders, leaving nothing by the roadside and turning that near masterpiece into a show of maximum strength and delight. I never knew the work, from Prokofiev’s flamboyant years in America, was that good, and I’ll never know again, unless I hear the EMI disc, which is also by Argerich and conducted by Charles Dutoit, as it was last week.”
(Alan Rich, LA Weekly: November 14, 2007)
One of her encores for that concert was the Scarlatti D minor Sonata.
So in honor of her birthday, and with the hope that she returns to Southern California soon, here are two videos of her from 2008: the first is the third movement of the Prokofiev 3rd Piano Concerto, the second the Scarlatti D minor Sonata.
Photo credit: Argos Online