Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim together again, as they have since the inception of these Festivals of Music and Reflexion two years ago. An old friedship revitalised, the fusing of very different personalities in a common purpose: to give the best of themselves serving the music they love. They have been before the public for about 65 years and are still going strong.
They are at the very top of their profession worldwide but of course these Argentines of immense talent strike a very personal and deep chord in our city. For even among those of us that aren´t Nationalistic they represent shining examples of what our melting pot society can produce. There´s a lot of wrong pride in this paradoxical Argentina pregnant with bad news, but there´s also good pride and it applies to what these artists provoke in our feelings.
In the presumably elitist field of classical music very few are mediatic but Martha and Daniel are: people that never (or almost never) go to the Colón want to be there, along with those that are longtime habitués. If the experience will induce them to frequent our great theatre in the future is a moot point, but if an afternoon like the one I´m reviewing doesn´t convince them, nothing will.
One regret (not a complaint): early announcements programmed something fascinating (at least for ample-minded music lovers): the Webern arrangement for two pianos of Schönberg´s seminal Five Pieces for Orchestra. Although Barenboim played them with his wife Elena Bashkirova in 2010, I was intrigued by the results of an interpretation by Martha and Daniel. But for some reason it was substituted by standard repertoire.
They started with one of Mozart´s Sonatas for four-hand piano; there are four mature ones plus another of his childhood. K.497 dates from
The music is splendid though undramatic, a fine example of what was called "style galant". Barenboim was subtle in the ornaments and in soft passages but too sturdy in the assertive moments; a modern piano can take it but that of Mozart´s time couldn´t. The slow music was really slow, and the fast, quite fast; a modern trend in Mozart interpretation. Martha followed him at all times, and it was particularly apparent when she exchanged similar figurations with Daniel, both artists hand-in-glove.
The rest of the programme (including the encores) was for two pianos, a very different texture in which complete unanimity is much harder to achieve (four-hand is much more intimate, communication is easier). You can have two extraordinary virtuosi and they won´t miss a note, but only if they play together for a long time they will be able to be absolutely exact in block chords, for in those a split second matters. The distance across two grand pianos is considerable, and although Barenboim was careful to make Argerich´s music stand lower and at key moments added head gestures, some chords weren´t quite together. But otherwise, the execution and interpretation of Daniel and Martha was simply great almost all the time.
Brahms´ "Variations on a theme by Haydn" are originally orchestral; the transcription for two pianos was done by the composer and it works very well. By the way, it doesn´t matter that the theme, called the "St Anthoni Chorale", is included in a wind partita probably by Pleyel, not Haydn: it is an excellent melody very apt for variations, and Brahms was a master of the genre. Barenboim built them as the great conductor he is, and Argerich, who has a more visceral approach in her personality, followed his views admirably.
Franz Liszt wrote music of transcendental difficulty in his prolific piano music; for two pianos he was just as demanding. The two scores we heard in the Second Part are seldom played simply because it is a tour de force to do so: the twenty-minute "Pathetic Concerto" (called so although there´s no orchestra) is vaguely dated "before
The Concerto is indeed "Pathetic" in its exuberant Romanticism, with two fast parts divided by a melodic slow fragment; although there´s plenty of rhetorical display, it holds together when played with such amazing command and beauty (the mercurial delicacy of certain passages from both artists is the privilege of only the greatest players). And the "Don Giovanni" fantasy (for it is such), after the ominous music of the Knight Commander, gives us extremely imaginative transformations of "Là ci darem la mano" (Giovanni-Zerlina) and the Don´s bubbling Champagne aria; great fun in the assiduously recorded original or in the rarely done two-piano version. Fantastic playing such as this veteran has rarely heard.
The encores brought us back to Mozart: lovely performances of the Second 8slow) and Third (fast) movements of his only Sonata for two pianos, K.448 (they had played the Sonata in the first Festival). What an evening!
For Buenos Aires Herald