Martha Argerich, one of the great performing musicians of our time, is also a generous mentor and colleague to pianists in the earlier stages of their careers. Among these is the Greek pianist Theodosia Ntokou, who grew up on the island of Rhodes and trained at leading conservatories in Athens, Berlin, Budapest and New York. She first auditioned for Martha Argerich in 2009 and they now give concerts together regularly.
On this album, one of Warner Classics’ releases for Beethoven’s 250th anniversary year, Argerich and Ntokou share the keyboard in an arrangement of Beethoven’s Symphony No 6, the ‘Pastoral’. The best-known piano-duet version of the symphony is by Carl Czerny, who was Beethoven’s pupil, but Argerich and Ntokou have chosen to record a transcription by a more obscure figure: Selmar Bagge (1823–1896), an organist and musicologist who in the 1860s edited the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, the leading German musical journal of its time, and then became director of the conservatory in Basel.
“I love Beethoven’s music and I have always adored the ‘Pastoral’,” says Argerich. “It is happy and lyrical … it has everything. These piano transcriptions of orchestral works were made so that people could get to know music at home.” As she points out, these arrangements might seem anachronistic in the 21st century, when the world’s musical riches are available at the touch of a button, but she also feels that intimate ‘symphonic’ performances could be newly relevant as the coronavirus reduces the scale of live music-making. She describes Bagge’s version as pianistically superior to Czerny’s, though even she – renowned for her phenomenal command of the keyboard – admits that it is technically demanding.
Famously, the ‘Pastoral’ is one of the first major examples of symphonic programme music, opening with, in Beethoven’s words, the “awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside”, and reaching a dramatic climax with the depiction of a violent thunderstorm in the fourth of its five movements. Theodosia Ntokou suggests that it carries an environmental message in 2020, and she also highlights a meteorological connection with the solo sonata that she plays on this album – No 17 in D minor, op 31 No 2, known as ‘The Tempest’. The sonata was composed in the earliest years of the 19th century, probably in 1802, and only acquired its nickname after Beethoven’s death, reputedly because he had once implied a link with Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. There is certainly no shortage of brooding intensity in its first movement. “It is one of my favourite sonatas,” says Theodosia Ntokou. “It has passion, energy and fire – close to my own personality.”
Chamber-music lovers around the world are lamenting a void in this year’s classical calendar. Due to discontinued funding, the Progetto Martha Argerich, with its festival held in Lugano (Switzerland) for the past 15 years, took its final bow with the 2016 edition. This marks the end of an era not only for the illustrious artists and rising stars who performed in this “showcase of superlative musicianship” (The Telegraph) year after year, but for the loyal fans and collectors of the ‘Martha Argerich & Friends’ live recordings.
Argerich’s final, historic Lugano festival, held from 7-30 June 2016, was the 15th edition and celebrated the legendary Argentinian pianist’s 75th birthday that month. Her special guests included pianists Stephen Kovacevich and Nicholas Angelich, violinist Renaud Capuçon and Argerich’s daughter Lyda Chen (viola), alongside many of her young protégés, among them the pianist siblings Sergio Tiempo and Karin Lechner.
Warner Classics’ triple-album collection of highlights, to be released in September 2017, captures the wide-ranging repertoire, intimate atmosphere and many brilliant performances from the festival’s swansong – perhaps the most remarkable being a rare Argerich solo Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit – which she has played live only twice in 33 years – alongside the same composer’s Piano Concerto in G Major with the Orchestra della Svizzera italiana.
Although the curtain has closed on Martha Argerich & Friends, the recordings will live on, as will the musical friendships forged within.
Praise for the Martha Argerich & Friends recordings:
“The releases of recordings from the Progetto Martha Argerich, the festival over which the great lady presides each June in the Swiss resort of Lugano, have become one of the most reliable annual fixtures in the CD calendar.” –The Guardian, Martha Argerich & Friends 2015
“The festival has class written all over it and exudes more joy - and humour - than any comparable event known to me. –BBC Music Magazine
“The Progetto Martha Argerich…has become an annual event, and the recordings made there each year are eagerly anticipated. The music-making always has a tremendous energy and relaxed enjoyment about it, and there’s invariably something unexpected…In everything, though, there’s a sense of specialness, of off-the-cuff music-making of the highest class.” –The Guardian, Martha Argerich & Friends 2014
“With each annual instalment of Martha Argerich's chamber music festival, you are plunged into a spontaneous ferment of music-making: few recordings capture so well the vivid energy of live performance. –The Guardian, Martha Argerich & Friends 2012
Also coming soon: Martha Argerich's new recording of Saint-Saëns's Carnival of the Animals.
In addition to the final Lugano collection, Martha Argerich will appear on a second, highly anticipated album to be released on Warner Classics in September 2017: a landmark new recording of Saint-Saëns’s beloved Carnival of the Animals for two pianos and ensemble, with acclaimed conductor-pianist Sir Antonio Pappano as her enchanting duo partner. These two fine representatives of the pianist species recorded in Rome with hand-picked soloists from Pappano’s Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia – another example of Argerich in her element in a chamber music setting to cherish. The entire orchestra assembles under Pappano’s baton for another of Saint-Saëns’ most celebrated works, the magnificent ‘Organ’ Symphony, No 3, with Daniele Rossi as soloist.
Two days after her 75th birthday concert in Berlin with Daniel Barenboim, the indefatiguable pianist Martha Argerich has returned to the Swiss city of Lugano, home to her annual chamber music festival, the Progetto Martha Argerich.
This year's highly-anticipated event marks the festival's 15th anniversary and gathers some 70 superlative musicians from 7 until 30 June. Argerich will be joined by an impressive line-up of her friends and longtime collaborators including pianists Nicholas Angelich, Stephen Kovacevich and Dong Hyek Lim, violinists Renaud Capuçon and Vilde Frang, cellist Mischa Maisky, mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli and the Orchestra della Svizzera italiana. The opening night this evening celebrates the music of Bach.
For years, the concerts have been recorded by Warner Classics for the annual Lugano triple-album release. The 2015 edition is available now. Highlights from the current series of concerts will include, undoubtedly, Argerich's Ravel Concerto in G Major and her mercurial Gaspard de la nuit, as well as arias with Cecilia Bartoli.
The 2016 Progetto Martha Argerich (Martha Argerich & Friends at Lugano) runs until 30 June.
Thank you for the great experience of making music together. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to play with you. Your great artistry was my 70th birthday present. But since now you are celebrating yours, may I wish you a very very happy and healthy birthday and many happy returns.
See you soon,
My dearest Martula,
Meeting you has had a huge impact in my life – a personal, emotional and musical impact.
I was so immensely lucky to meet you – this great, fiery pianist; this living legend, this goddess of music and above all this extraordinary woman – free-spirited, passionate, curious and sensitive.
I was so excited to play with you for the first time – the Mendelssohn Piano Trio – and yet at the same time blown away, even intimidated; this young cellist fresh out of the Conservatoire suddenly face to face with a classical music giant. I will never forget the kindness with which you looked at me, and the trust you placed in me. You led me by the hand on stage with infectious energy and tenderness.
Everything I’ve experienced on stage with you and in life is invaluable. The first wild years at Lugano, the frenzy around the Gulda homage in Japan, the Beethoven Triple Concerto...
Today I’d like to tell you, once again, MERCI.
Thank you for who you are.
Thank you for your sincerity and fidelity.
Thank you for all the love you give your fellow musicians and friends.
Martha Argerich has in many ways been my teacher because I have conducted my debuts with her of the Schumann Piano Concerto, the Liszt E-Flat, Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto, Tchaikovsky No.1 and Beethoven No.1. Needless to say, once you have performed these concertos with her, it is almost impossible to imagine them played another way, such is her originality, fire, and sophistication.
May she continue to wow us all with her bewitching yet oh-so-natural way with music, and to continue offering her enormous wisdom to the younger generation of musicians...And to those of us who are not so young! -Sir Antonio Pappano
Since I listened to her playing for the very first time I immediately fell in love with her incomparable way of making music. The way she preformed evoked emotions in me that I had never felt before. I was so overwhelmed by her great naturalness, her unfailing musical instinct and her incredible virtuosity and strength that it became one of my biggest dreams to meet her in person some day and maybe even to be able to play for her.
After a couple of years, in 2010, this dream actually came true thanks to a great coincidence: at a small summer festival in Italy my great idol actually let me play for her in her practice room. Everything changed for me. From that day on Martha Argerich became my musical mentor, supported me generously and, above all, a close personal friendship started to grow between us.
Whenever she comes to visit me in Munich now and we sit together to talk and joke about music and life, these are the most inspiring and beautiful hours for me.
I am unbelievably thankful and happy to have her, for me she is the one and only; she is my 'piano mama'!
Thank you, Martula, for existing and for enriching our lives with your wonderful art. All the very best for your birthday from the bottom of my heart! Tantissimi auguroni!
Martha was always was my idol from childhood, and I still remember the moment I met her in Milan for the first time.
Since then I feel in love not only in her playing which is beyond any imagination, but also immense admiration for her warm, motherly and caring personality.
Sometimes I feel guilty that she does care for me so much and I have nothing to offer her...And I have to confess that getting to know her is the best thing ever happened in my life.
Happy birthday, Martha! I love you so much!
If I think to Martha Argerich one word comes immediately to my mind: immortality. Immortality because, with her overwhelming energy, she has been able to stop time and write incredible pages in the history of pianism. Best wishes, Martha! -Beatrice Rana
Suvi Raj Grubb: When I started to get interested in music it took some time for me to come to terms with the piano. But by the time I joined EMI (now Warner Classics) I loved piano music and was very knowledgeable about it, so whenever a new pianist appeared I was first choice as producer.
By 1966 I had made a clutch of piano records, one of the best of
which never saw the light of day. When Martha Argerich walked into the studio it was her dark, smouldering looks which first struck me. As soon as she arrived she asked for coffee; when I offered her a cup she gulped it down in one go and asked for more. I sat her in the studio with a large pot of coffee and went into the control room.
At first, her hands moved casually over the keyboard as she tested the piano. Then she launched into Chopin’s Polonaise Op.53. I sat
up in my chair with a long drawn out ‘Jee-sus’ – the balance engineer said ‘Wow!’
If this was a sample of her playing, Argerich was quite the most formidable player we had ever come across. The big chords sounded huge, the runs between them clean; in the trio, a great showpiece, the difficult left-hand octave runs were even and the crescendo controlled. I peeped into the studio to make sure that this wash of sound was really originating from the slip of a girl seated at the piano. It was quite unbelievable.
I smiled as I recollected Clara Schumann’s remark to Brahms about the Paganini Variations, regretting that it was beyond a woman pianist’s capability. Nothing would have been beyond this woman.
She came into the control room, looked at me and beamed, for she knew she had had a shattering impact on me. Over the next few days, fortified by gallons of strong, black coffee, she finished a Chopin recital which included the third Sonata, the third Scherzo and, fashioned like miniature jewels, a group of Mazurkas and Nocturnes. The last movement of the Sonata is in one flawless take. She said she had enjoyed the sessions; she liked the sound of the piano on the record, and looked forward to working with me again.
To my bitter disappointment, we learnt a few weeks later that her commitment to another company would not permit us to publish the record, and, not for the first time nor the last, I wished that there were no such things as exclusivity clauses. In due course a record with the same repertoire was released by our rivals – when I heard it I knew that our Argerich was the better of the two.
© Suvi Raj Grubb, from Music Makers on Record (Hamish Hamilton, London, 1986)
Martha Argerich's Chopin: The Legendary 1965 recording, is released on LP for the first time for Argerich's 75th birthday 5 June.
Martha Argerich has been described as “unquestionably one of the greatest pianists of all time”. She recorded a Chopin recital for EMI (now Warner Classics) in 1965, shortly after her victory in the prestigious Chopin Competition, but it only became available in 1999, when it appeared on CD. For Argerich's 75th birthday on 5 June, it finally sees its first release on LP, the format originally intended.
“Argerich was quite the most formidable player we had ever come across,” writes the album’s producer, Suvi Raj Grubb, “Nothing would have been beyond this woman.” All this adds up to a recording that is indeed legendary.
Martha Argerich's Chopin: The Legendary 1965 Recording will be released on vinyl for the first time on 3 June.
She appears shortly after her 75th birthday at the 2016 Lugano Festival. The 2015 edition of Martha Argerich and Friends is out now.
As The Guardian wrote of an earlier release in Warner Classics’ Argerich-Lugano series: “Even when Argerich is not directly involved, her unique musical spirit seems to hover over the performances; there's a freshness, a sense of discovery, about all the playing here.”
"The releases of recordings from the Progetto Martha Argerich, the festival over which the great lady presides each June in the Swiss resort of Lugano, have become one of the most reliable annual fixtures in the CD calendar," declares The Guardian in a four-star review of the latest three-album edition of Martha Argerich and Friends: Live from Lugano, out now.
The latest offering features Argerich live in concert with regular and longstanding duo-partners (Stephen Kovacevich, Ilya Gringolts, Gautier Capuçon, Nicholas Angelich) and a new generation of artists she has personally mentored. The delightfully eclectic repertoire across the festival ranges from Brahms to Ginastera to Philip Glass.
"Argerich fans are always looking for additions to her personal discography, too, and they get a couple here. She joins Lilya Zilberstein in Debussy’s two-piano arrangement of Schumann’s Six Canonic Studies Op 56, originally written for pedal piano; and with Eduardo Hubert as the other soloist and the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana under Alexander Vedernikov, she takes on Porteña (Latitude 34° 36° 30°), for two pianos and orchestra."
It is equally fascinating to hear Argerich and her close collaborators revisit music they have explored together previously. On this album she and Kovacevich give "a rather stormy, fierce account of Debussy’s En Blanc et Noir, a work they recorded together in the 1970s."
The Guardian's verdict: "There is still the sense of occasion and uniqueness that you seem to get with everything that comes out of these Lugano gatherings."
Martha Argerich & Friends: Live from Lugano 2015 is out 13 May, 2016.
In a rare meeting of musical minds in Paris last month, Itzhak Perlman and Martha Argerich found the time in their demanding schedules to record a new album, to be released late 2016 on Warner Classics.
It has been 18 years since their last album together: a live recital from the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. On that momentous occasion in 1998, the pair performed three of the 19th century’s most ambitious and enthralling works for violin and piano – Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, the Franck Violin Sonata and Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 1. The first two sonatas were released in 1999 by EMI Classics (now Warner Classics) in what was the pair’s only recording together until now.
The Schumann Violin Sonata will at long last be released alongside the new recordings from the Paris sessions, making the forthcoming album a fascinating ‘then and now’ portrait of how two living legends have evolved musically.
In addition to the 1998 recording, this milestone collaboration between Argerich and Perlman sees the duo explore three masterpieces from the Baroque to the Romantic in intimate chamber recital: Bach’s Violin Sonata No.4 in C Minor, BWV 1017 (with its famous Siciliano), Schumann’s impassioned Fantasiestücke Op 73, and Brahms’s Scherzo from the Sonatensatz in C minor (the ‘F.A.E. Sonata’), dedicated to the great violinist Joseph Joachim.
“Martha is the most amazing pianist,” says Perlman of his recital partner. “It’s always been my dream to make music with her… We thought of completing that recording from 1998 by making another record almost 20 years later.
“Working with Martha was a unique experience for me …Her brilliance and the colours she uses when she plays are recognisable as soon as you hear them – it’s her; nobody else sounds like that… I am so excited that we were actually able to record together again… When this possibility came along that she might be able to have a couple of days free to record I said, ‘I’ll go any place!’”
Martha Argerich added: “I feel so stimulated to play with Itzhak, it’s really a feast – fantastic! It’s a very special relationship, I am completely enchanted.”
Jean-Philippe Roland, EVP of Artists & Repertoire at Warner Classics, said: "I don’t want to sound over the top, but only a comparison of astronomic magnitude can properly depict the musical reunion of these two living legends."
Both artists have maintained a longstanding relationship with Warner Classics. The label celebrated Itzhak Perlman’s 70th birthday in 2015 with the release of his complete Warner Classics recordings in a lavish 77-CD edition. Martha Argerich, who turns 75 in June 2016, continues to release an annual chamber music collection live from the Lugano Festival as part of the Martha Argerich & Friends project. Her birthday will be marked with a major boxed set project this year, along with the first release on vinyl of her legendary 1965 Chopin album.
These are two of the most sought-after chamber musicians of their generation. Perlman has recorded with the likes of Daniel Barenboim, André Previn, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Emanuel Ax at the piano; Argerich with Gidon Kremer, Ivry Gitlis, Vadim Repin and Renaud Capuçon on violin.
Itzhak Perlman and Martha Argerich’s new album of Bach, Schumann and Brahms will be released late 2016.
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