Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Happy Birthday, Martha!

As luck would have it, I sit watching a DVD of the great pianist Martha Argerich. She plays Ravel's Jeux d'eau with such beauty, delicacy and ease that I'm awed.

The DVD is from 1977, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation telecast featuring the 36-year-old Martha that lives on. As I read the program notes, I realize that Argerich was born June 5, 1941, and my DVD is due back to the library on her birthday. Ah, lovely coincidences.

Her Liszt Funerailles is powerful, but still less commanding than I'd prefer. Here her playing is exciting, yet it lacks something: a depth, a heightened sense of color and nuance -- that is, Argerich's hallmarks. I instantly forgive her as I listen to the Jeux d'eau for a second, third and fourth time.

The program opens with Schumann's Piano Concerto in A Minor (Conductor Franz-Paul Decker leads the Radio-Canada Orchestra), and here the poetry just ripples off her fingers. The tempo is fast but hearty, nothing fluffy or breezy. Here is the earnest Martha; she lets escape only one brief, tiny smile during the performance. Flashy mannerisms she leaves to someone else who might need them. Here the music is all-important.

And even though I'm not fond of Schumann (oooh, did I really admit that?!?), I'm compelled to listen to her. Not that I don't know what comes next, but I don't know what she will do next! Her turns of phrase, her choice of what to highlight, it's such a sense of spontaneity, joy and adventure. Here's Schumann even a detractor could love.

Although I've never been fortunate enough to catch one of her live performances, I count Martha Argerich as one of the Top 10 living pianists.

Thanks for the hours of rapture, Martha, and Happy Birthday!

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