Martha Argerich's concerts are always planned, but they are never guaranteed.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Argerich, Abbado and Mozart in Lucerne

After Jan Lisiecki stepped in for Martha Argerich in Bologna for what was to have been her performance in Bologna with Claudio Abbado in March, there were a few who voiced concern.

'Will she play in Lucerne?'

They needn't have worried. She made it to the picturesque Swiss town and made some of the most sublime music this fan has heard in a long time. 

On 16 March, the first of two evenings, she appeared on the stage of the stunning KKL Concert Hall, looking slightly nervous. But Argerich is an artist who performs her best when supportive partners are around her, and Abbado's masterful handling of the first orchestral tutti of Mozart's C Major concerto (KV 503) seemed to gradually put her at ease. The soloist's first entry was deliciously lithe and silken, and it was this quality that stood out most in her performance throughout the work. Her sound carried effortlessly in the hall, and there was nothing hard-edged or forced about her playing.

Argerich and Abbado during the recording
In the late 1970s Argerich stopped playing the work, after reading an unfavourable review by the late New York Times critic Harold C. Schonberg, who found her playing of the concerto 'superficial'. Happily, Mr Schonberg can be (posthumously) proved wrong, as there was nothing superficial about her Lucerne performance, and indeed the second movement was played with warm pathos, while still avoiding sentimentality. The last movement sparkled with delight, with soloist, orchestra and conductor engaging in a lively musical conversation. The audience was unanimous in its appreciation, and despite the thunderous applause, Argerich gave no encores that evening.

The next day, everyone regrouped in the hall for a patch session, where the mood was very light. Between a few short discussions between the musicians and the producer, they ran parts of the KV 503 and then practically played through the d minor concerto (KV 466) scheduled for the next day.

While Argerich was visibly nervous for the C Major concerto two nights previously, she showed no such signs during the performance of the KV 466 on 18 March. She listened intently to the initial tutti, and often swayed her head back and forth. Her handling of the exposition started delicately, even fragile, but it soon turned into a reading of high contrasts, stormy in its volatility, while never becoming violent. Again, Abbado and his Orchestra Mozart provided the perfect framework for Argerich, and the interplay was beautifully seamless. In the second movement she played a little bit with time, which gave an autumnal, nostalgic feeling to it. She launched into the last movement of the work even before the last note of the slow movement had died away. Her first theme was enthusiastically taken over by the orchestra, with the strings (and especially the cellos and basses) playing with a fantastic intensity, and it was clear that we were pulled back into the storm once more, and even more potently than it had been in the first movement. After this musical tug-of-war, the final bars in D major were jubilant, and after relentless cheering from the public and orchestra, Argerich reluctantly played the first scene of Schumann's Kinderszenen, bringing the short Abbado-Argerich residency in Lucerne to beautiful close.
Photo: Copyright Priska Ketterer/Lucerne Festival


  1. Thank you very much for your review :-) I did look forward to seeing it, I was really curious about her bring back the Mozart concerto No. 25 after nearly 40 years...
    Hopefully there will be videos of her performances of these concertos.

  2. wow, great that you were awarded such a treat.....

  3. The Mozart was really wonderful, the sound was natural, she coyly played and listened to the orchestra. I have an even greater respect for her after hearing this concert.