CD Reviews (The Straits Times, November 2011)



MARTHA ARGERICH AND FRIENDS
Live from Lugano 2010
EMI Classics 708362 (3CDs) / ****1/2


The Martha Argerich Project of the annual Lugano Festival brings together the world’s top young musicians in a feast of chamber music, inspired by the sheer presence and personality of the Argentine piano legend herself. Every edition throws up a panoply of works, familiar and obscure. Argerich appears only in the first two discs, but her effect is electric, not least in Chopin’s First Piano Concerto – a signature favourite of hers – with the Orchestra Svizzera Italiana conducted by Jacek Kaspszyk. She also joins some-time partner Stephen Kovacevich in Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos & Percussion in a fiery performance, reliving the good old days of their famed collaboration.

Rarities make this box-set a keeper as well. Where else would one get performances of piano quintets by Enrique Granados, Erich Korngold or Alfred Schnittke? The last is a particularly acerbic work that closes the collection on a pall of depression. But that is offset by sparkling works for multiple pianos by Chopin (Rondo Op.73), Brahms (Schumann Variations Op 23) and the scintillating Gershwin-Grainger (Porgy & Bess Fantasy). The pick of the crop are Liszt’s Les Preludes on two pianos (with Argerich and Daniel Rivera) and the three-piano transcription for three pianos by Carlo Maria Griguoli of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (Griguoli, Giorgia Tomassi and Alessandro Stella). Enjoy!






GRAZYNA BACEWICZ
Piano Quintets / Piano Sonata No.2
KRYSTIAN ZIMERMAN, Piano et al
Deutsche Grammophon 477 8332 / ****1/2


Only a pianist of Krystian Zimerman’s stature could have persuaded Deutsche Grammophon to devote an entire release to Polish music not composed by Chopin or Szymanowski. Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) was without doubt Poland’s greatest woman composer. More of her music, obscured from the West because of her relatively early death behind the “iron curtain”, is being heard today. Perhaps the least unfamiliar is her Second Piano Sonata (1953), a virtuoso vehicle that possesses a fluent but turbulent lyricism, brilliantly realised by Zimerman. The finale is a coruscating toccata that will make it a concert hall favourite.

The two piano quintets are classically conceived despite the modern idioms employed. Tonality is retained, but with dissonance that goes beyond the pungent chromaticism of Szymanowski. The First Quintet (1952) is perhaps more memorable than the compact and ascetic Second Quintet (1965), largely due to the use of the oberek, a mazurka-like dance that goes back to before Chopin’s time. Bacewicz is a distinctive and original voice, and repeated listening will reveal a similar appeal enjoyed by established icons like Bartok, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Zimerman and his compatriots on strings invest their heart and soul in this musically rewarding outing.