Martha Argerich records Beethoven’s Symphony No 6 with Theodosia Ntokou
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.”
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