Argentinian Argerich ruling Queen of Piano
At 77, still young
IBy Cezary Owerkowicz
n history we have monarchs who have been at the helm of affairs for a long time but it is wrong to generalize this belief because there are also have those who were in power for a short time.
A majority of them were males but history records many females among the make ‘dominance’. Some of them were lucky (and also their nations sometimes) to rule for long periods. That’s enough to recall the Great British Queens. For example the Queen and Empress Victoria ruled from 1837 until her death in 1901 and her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II is on the throne since 1952. (We will also add here the sincere slogan ‘God save The Queen’).
It is not only about nations and states, but we have ‘rulers’ in some fields of culture, sport, maybe science and many times people ‘elect’ some persons as the king or the queen of something.
The ‘election’, is somehow also connected to selection, and is done rather democratically and spontaneously. However there is no total exclusion of some lobbying. Such ‘kings and queens’ representing something at very high professional level have the ability to win the hearts of their followers.
In the field of music such ‘rules for rulers’ also are quite clear for observers. Today I don’t want to mention ‘pop-rulers’ of songs and entertaining music, although I appreciate very much some of them.
Let us limit the time to classics or even thinner – to piano. In 1965 during the 7th Int’l Chopin Competition which was held in Warsaw, Poland there appeared on the horizon a star – Winner of Competition in excellent style, 24 years old Argentinean lady, Martha Argerich.
Since that time Martha has become a legend of the classical music world, even though she doesn’t act like one. She’s private, moody and unpredictable. She is widely beautiful, with a long, thick mass of hair – once dark, now gray – and a radiant, quick smile.
Nowadays she is still young but since a quite long time (77) but still wears the peasant blouses and cotton pants of a teenager circa 1968. And she plays the piano brilliantly, ferociously and, perhaps better than anyone else on the Earth. It is not a wonder that she is widely recognized as the ruling ‘Queen of Piano’.
The rule of rulers is from time to time to address the followers ‘Urbi et Orbi’ (‘to the City and to the World’). The rulers of nations address the parliament directly or the people through the media. The artistes also use media or – rather records I would say. And from ‘those on high’ such statements are eagerly expected.
Our Piano Queen at her 77 has the iron fingers, creates wonderful sounds, springiness articulations, full dynamic control, pearl-like lightness, and such ‘something’ forced us to listening to her which took away our breath.
At last the Great Lady of Piano dedicated to us, her followers three essential addresses – statements. Probably every one of them will be an important position in our collection of records as well as ‘musical diet’ to consume at the earliest convenience. Why?
The first of them is ‘Prokofiev for Two’ edited by Deutsche Grammophon. The modern classic (also called ‘neo-classic’), of the 20th century Russian composer, Sergei Prokofiev who was born on April 23, 1891 in the Ukrainian village and died in Moscow exactly on the same day as communist dictator Stalin, on March 5, 1953.
He was soon acknowledged as a great composing talent (and pianist) in native Russia and in the West. It is a big secret why he came back to the Bolshevik Russian when he was 30 during the worst period which was raving with Stalinism. Was he disgusted by commercialization of art in the West or he liked to be the leading composer in his native country or just felt homesick -- which is traditionally very strong among the Russians.
He was deeply disappointed. The totalitarian authorities mocked him. His ballet Romeo and Juliet was refused several times under the pretext it was not suitable for dancing. In spite of all this, his music became one of the most popular and appreciated among his works. Just that music is the base of Martha’s last record.
Her friend, Armenian-American pianist, Sergei Babayan chose and transcribed for two pianos 12 fragments of the ballet, creating his own unique cycle. NB. Prokofiev as a result of the wide popularity of his music about ‘Verona Lovers’, arranged from his Romeo and Juliet ballet three orchestral suites and cycle of 10 pieces for piano solo (as his Opus 75).
On the CD 12 ballets fragments are completed by few fragments from Prokofiev’s opera War and Peace also in Babayan’s transcription for two pianos.
Argerich and Babayan premiered his work last summer in Lugano, Switzerland and in November recorded it in Germany. Argerich starts with uncompromising hits of the keyboard. The beginning is striking: cold and hard chords hits, fast repeated notes moving as cogs of industrial machine in Prologue.
Both pianos sound as bells in Knights Dance and changed in running pearls on the keyboard when the maid runs to deliver the letter from Romeo to Juliet -- pinch of bravado and humor in Morning Serenade and in The Quarrel insistence and eagerness of over shouting between The Capuletti and The Montecchi. Transcription is done perfectly: performance sounds as it would be played by one pianist with superhuman abilities!
The second disc from The Piano Queen is born in Japan. Martha recorded it with the Japanese legendary conductor – Seji Ozawa. After leading such orchestras as San Francisco Symphony and Toronto Symphony I remember him when he was a long time director of The Boston Symphony. (Just as my sons studied there and on my piano stays until today a clarinet I’ve got from there.)
On the disc edited by Decca there is live record of the concert performed in Mito, Japan in May 2017. Argerich recorded with his Japanese friend the first ever Piano Concerto which she played as a 10 years old girl at Teatro San Martin in Buenos Aires in 1951. It is Ludwig van Beethoven’s 1st Piano Concerto in C Major op. 15.
Martha plays perfectly, strongly and consequently, like ‘The Iron Lady’ (also somehow political and – British association). In the 1st Part she tells us some story, blustering with humor. The 2nd Part is just pure poetry but 3rd runs in crazy tempo as frolicking of frisky child! Somebody has to be a great artiste to be amused so much by music.
The third disc that appeared on the disc shelves is also a live record but from 2006, from the Chopin Festival and His Europe. Organized at the National Philharmonic in Warsaw, Poland every year, the festival is highly prestigious because such people as Martha attended the event from the beginning.
The crisscross Martha performed that time in Concerto C minor for Piano, Trumpet and orchestra by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), the other great Russian composer in 20th century.
Until the last moment nobody was sure that Martha would play that evening, because sometimes she cancelled at the last moment the entire concert tours, like last year in Australia.
The next day there was a headline in the leading newspaper – ‘She Played!’ Yes, and the way she played. Humor, but a bit bitter harsh lyricism, grotesque licentiousness of the piano – all characteristic of Shostakovich music was there. Martha plays with it joyfully like unintentionally.
In 1965 I was one of competitors of Martha during that Chopin Competition. She won over all of us and she deserved it. Since that time I am one of her admires. After three new discs I will repeat triple ‘God save The Queen!’ And ‘multos annos’ (long live), Martha.
Editor’s Note: Cezary Owerkowicz is the chairman of the Kuwait Chamber of Philharmonia and talented pianist. He regularly organises concerts by well-known musicians for the benefit of music lovers and to widen the knowledge of music in Kuwait. His e-mail address is: cowerkowicz @yahoo.com and firstname.lastname@example.org