Martha Argerich: Another Unparalleled Performance at Celebrity Series of Boston

Nélida Nassar   10.26.2017

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It is very common nowadays to give titles to books like “100 books you should read before you die”. If this notion were extended to music, each recital by Martha Argerich would be a good candidate for inclusion. She is definitely the “One classical pianist you should watch and listen to before you die”. A good example of why that is so was her performance in Boston last Sunday at Symphony Hall as part of the Boston Celebrity Series, where she was the soloist with the Orchestra dell’Academia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, led by maestro Antonio Pappano.

This mesmerizing concert, lasting approximatively an hour and three-quarters, was completely sold out. The well-conceived program consisted of the colorful Verdi “Sinfonia” from Aida, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, and Respighi’s “Fountains of Rome” and “Pines of Rome”. Prokofiev’s blazing concerto is a perfect showcase for Argerich’s flawless technique (which verges on the super-human) and penetrating musical mind. All the notes were clearly discernible throughout her extraordinarily broad dynamic range, from ff to a pristine ppp. There have been and continue to be many technical virtuosos – Horowitz, Gilels, Richter, Cziffra, Ogdon, Hamelin, and Kissin come to mind, to name just a few – but Argerich possibly stands at the very top.

How exquisitely she played the Prokofiev, a very particular and demanding piece of music, displaying delicacy and beauty and then unleashing flurries of notes, hand over hand, in the outer movements. There are so many levels in this piece, and at each playing she reaches new “layers”. Responding to the audience ecstatic demands for an encore she performed “Laideronnette, Empress of the Pagodas” from Ravel’s Mother Goose. In this version for piano four-hands she was joined by Pappano, and the two pianists found just the right balance of orchestral textures and colors.

Appearing relaxed and self-confident, Argerich, at 76, is willing to take chances and conveys to her audience a new, more poetic tone quality and a more brilliant sonority, eliciting many ovations. Her widow’s-weeds black top and flowering skirt heighten the beauty and mystery of her playing. (Plainness is never a mistake on a concert stage). Her dignified posture is remarkable: she became “one” with the instrument, allowing the listener, freed of any distracting mannerisms, to concentrate wholly on the interpretation.

Wrapping up this exquisite concert were two orchestral encores: Sibelius’s Valse triste and the gallop from Rossini’s William Tell Overture. The musicians offered listeners more of the subtlety, grace and crystalline precision they had encountered all evening. This was truly music performed to the highest standard, and one of the finest concerts I have attended.

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