There were doubts almost to the last moment as to whether the renowned Argentine pianist Martha Argerich would appear for her first EIF concert since 2003. The 70-year-old recently pulled out of a Prom appearance and had cancelled one of her Verbier concerts.
Though she still follows a demanding schedule, she now seems to concentrate more on “chamber” music rather than longer full-scale solos. Not in the least surprising since she suffered a cancer attack which collapsed one lung.
A full–to-capacity Usher Hall Festival audience greeted her with delighted applause – and the delight continued with a sparkling performance alongside fellow Argentine Nelson Goerner. The evening started fluently with a four-handed Sonata composed and premiered, with his sister, by the nine-year old Mozart. Perhaps not one of Mozart’s major works, it combined a certain mellifluous lightness with a more thought-provoking slow movement – and some fleeting phrases recognisable in his later compositions.
This revelation of four hands in harmony on a single keyboard, was followed by a much more powerful work, Rachmanivov’s Symphonic Dances, in a version for two pianos devised personally by the composer. Goerner’s technical brilliance was revealed by some extremely demanding passages, while the sheer force of Argerich’s intuitive interpretation led to fairly extensive retuning of her piano during the interval that followed.
There was no denying that for many this memorable performance was the highlight of the evening but the concert second half also provided music to remember. Schubert’s Rondo in A demanded delicacy of touch and gentleness far removed from the robustness of composition and performance evidenced in the two Ravel works that completed the programme.
The original four-handed piano version of the Mother Goose suite, with its colourful characters and changes of mood and tempo necessitated precise cooperation between the two pianists, who were unhesitating in their joint and separate parts.
“Rumbustious” may not accurately denote the pianistic fireworks and technical excellence of the playing but the powerful sound filled the Usher Hall.
The audience was vociferous in prolonged, renewed applause and the duo’s generous encore extended the scheduled two-hour concert by around 20 minutes.
Event: August 14, 2011