Wednesday, December 9, 1998

Prokofiev-Bartok

Posted By on Wed, Dec 9, 1998 at 12:00 AM

The Argentine pianist Martha Argerich is justly celebrated for her fiery, panther-like approach to the keyboard. She doesn't merely set off sparks, she ignites conflagrations. She is most impulsive and volcanic in live performance, although her studio recordings, including this one, sometimes capture her wild fury. At 57, Argerich hasn't extinguished any of the fire that has enlivened her recordings since her astonishing debut album back in 1961.

Long acquainted with the concertos of Prokofiev, Argerich makes a convincing case on this CD that familiarity and freshness don't have to be anathema. Diving headlong into the treacherously difficult third movement of Prokofiev's "Concerto No. 3" with no hint of caution, she keeps the propulsive drive of the rhythm zipping along with steam to spare, while exploring the percussive possibilities of the piano. She instills the opening movement with an almost feverish intensity. Although not as difficult, the 1st Concerto is no day at the beach. Argerich's playing is brisk and buoyant throughout.

Argerich invests Bartók's "Piano Concerto No. 3" with vivid color and an edgy sense of rhythm. The only drawback is that she makes the contemplative second movement more desultory than meditative. Argerich seems impatient, perhaps waiting nervously to plunge into the more vigorous last movement.

The pianist teams up with her ex-husband, Charles Dutoit, whose conducting approach, although lively, appears to bow in deference to the soloist. Smart man.

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