Pianist Argerich brightens every piece she plays

Music Review

May 18, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Martha Argerich is a phenomenal pianist who deserves an ever-glowing spotlight. Too bad she insists on sharing it.

Not that I would begrudge any opportunity to hear the Argentine wonder. But throughout her concert with cellist Mischa Maisky at the Kennedy Center Wednesday night - her first D.C. appearance in more than three decades - I kept wishing she had the stage to herself.

For a long while now, Argerich has eschewed solo recitals in favor of chamber music collaborations or appearances with orchestras. Imagine if Maria Callas had only agreed to sing in the chorus. (All right, it's not that bad.)

As compensation, Argerich certainly chooses her colleagues well. Maisky may not have the most ravishing tone around (it sounded oddly monochromatic at times), but he's a thorough musician who can match the pianist quite well in temperament and technique.

The duo, presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society, delved into the mercurial D minor Cello Sonata by Shostakovich with great insight and maintained a sense of total communion.

The players were so secure in such matters as articulation and dynamics that they could focus squarely on the score's emotional ride, from bittersweet internalizing to jaunty, extrovert humor.

Without ever overdoing anything, they reached maximum intensity in the first and (especially) third movements. The finale's almost impudent opening theme prompted phrasing of delectable character; subsequent outbursts had a devilish spontaneity.

Argerich brought magical fire and precision to every opportunity in the score for keyboard flourishes, but also produced some of the most delicate, eloquent hues that can be achieved on a piano. Everything she did commanded attention.

This is not say that Maisky was overshadowed; his part of the bargain was upheld honorably. He offered particular incisiveness in the Largo.

There was just as much to savor in Chopin's G minor Cello Sonata. Since Chopin couldn't possibly write an uneventful piano part, and since Chopin has always been an Argerich specialty, she was in her element. Her vivid tone and ever-poetic phrases elevated what is not, on balance, one of the composer's greatest creations. Maisky, too, made much of the material in bold, expressive strokes.

A dazzling account of more Chopin - the Introduction and Polonaise Brilliante (arranged by Emanuel Feuermann) - led off a series of encores that kept the crowd cheering.

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