Martha Argerich Concert – Tim Motthershead

Posted on July 12, 2013

Martha Argerich
Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

As anyone who is familiar with the Manchester International Festival will know, its mission statement is to present new, original work. None of the works in this programme was new, but as Festival Director Alex Poots stated in the preface to the programme, the concert “does contain an exclusive of sorts…the long awaited return to Manchester [50 years!] of Martha Argerich, one of the world’s greatest living musicians.” One might further add that in this case the original criteria become irrelevant. Indeed, when the concerto she was to play was changed from Shostakovich to Beethoven’s 1st Piano Concerto earlier in the week, many patrons might have actually preferred this simply because the Beethoven is a longer work…meaning more Martha!

The Beethoven concerto was placed second in the programme. After the 3 minute orchestral exposition came the much anticipated moment: the first entry of the piano. The vast majority of audience, myself included, having never heard Martha Argerich live before, and must surely have wondered: what will she sound like? From the outset the playing had phenomenal rhythmic vitality, articulation, and projection. Incredible too were the infinitely nuanced dynamics, particularly in quiet passages, which were played with an unfailingly command, which is underpinned long nurtured artistry. In fact, every phrase or gesture seemed to be a controlled within an aural perspective, like the myriad hues and shadings of a great artist give rise to the impression of depth in a painting. As the performance went on one was full of incredulity at the spontaneous, quicksilver changes of mood and atmosphere.

In the intimate 2nd movement there were many gossamer runs, special sonorities, and passages of great beauty – every detail having a pre-ordained purpose in Martha Argerich’s overall vision of the piece. Indeed the playing was so intimate that at times it appeared that the audience were eavesdropping on a private communion between soloist and orchestra. By contrast the rondo finale which followed ‘attacca’ proved a wondrously joyful affair, full of vitality and humour.

As the concerto ended one was struck not so much by the standing ovation, as the cheers, sustained volume, and duration of the applause, as enthusiastic and genuine as I can recall in many a long year of concert-going, and which would have undoubtedly lasted much longer, had the soloist not treated the audience to a remarkably fleet encore by Schumann Traumes-Wirren (Troubled Dreams from the Fantasiestücke op.12) which seemed to begin almost before she had sat down – and certainly before the audience had!

It is never easy to award stars to a review, but in this case seems not just irrelevant, but almost an impertinence for sublime music-making which is simply off the scale. At a time when superlatives are bandied about so frequently and inappropriately as to become commonplace, one must reclaim them and restore them to their rightful place. I therefore use the word visionary advisedly, in the sense of an artist who projects an overarching view in which every breath-taking detail has a place in the overall scheme of the work. No doubt Martha Argerich receives such applause wherever she goes. She probably does. But one likes to imagine that the reception of a Manchester audience is always a little bit special, and perhaps imagine that such adulation might tempt her to make a return visit!

Due to the time needed to reset the stage following the Bartok, the longer time devoted to the Beethoven concerto, the length of the applause Martha Argerich received, the concert overran, with the second half only commencing some 8 minutes before the envisioned end. I therefore only heard the opening of Avro Pärt’s ‘Lamentate’, before I was obliged to leave for another MIF13 event (a late night performance of Shelley’s epic poem ‘The Masque of Anarchy’). This work opened with the ominous sounds of thunder, gongs, and horns, leading to a searing elemental theme; all of which seems to tie-in the title of the first (of ten) movements: Minacciando (menacing).

This Manchester Camerata concert had begun with a performance Bartok’s Music of Strings, percussion, and Celeste, conducted by their music director Gábor Takács-Nagy, with David Kadouch on orchestral piano. From the outset of the dolorous 1st movement it was obvious that we were to be treated to something very special. Every phrase was lovingly crafted with care and affection, and animated with charm and elegance, with the whole movement achieving an incredible trajectory. The quick paced 2nd movement displayed an unrivalled joie de vivre, and found its conductor alert to every terpsichorean inflection in Bartok’s score, whilst extracting a staggering range of colour – with a final special polish reserved for a corking coda. The nocturnal, and sometimes nightmarish adagio, was a model in sonorities of a different kind – sometimes balanced on the threshold of sound. The rapid finale again communicated the conductor’s disarming enthusiasm, whilst giving a romantic scope to the more sweeping passionate themes.

I’m almost tempted to say that this Bartok performance was the highlight of the evening, and in a concert which didn’t feature an international soloist it certainly would have been. But whilst Martha Argerich may not be returning to Manchester anytime soon, Gábor Takács-Nagy is undoubtedly an artist of world standing in his own right, who is on Manchester on a regular basis. Make sure you attend his concerts.

Tim Motthershead – Martha Argerich concert, Reviewer –