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Works for Two Pianos
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major KV 448 (1781): Allegro con spirito [7:49] Andante [7:57] Molto Allegro [6:09]
Dimitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Concertino in A minor Op. 94 [9:16]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Suite No. 1 Op. 5 (Fantasie-Tableaux): Barcarole [7:57] La nuit … l’amour … [6:07] Les larmes [5:26] Pâques [1:27]
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
Scaramouche Op. 165b: Vif [2:47] Moderé [5:14] Brasileira [2:34]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
La valse (transcription by the composer) [12:08]
Martha Argerich and Gabriele Baldocci (pianos)
rec. live, 2 February 2008, Teatro ‘I Quattro Mori’, Livorno, Italy
DYNAMIC CDS 7663 [76:16]

Over the years, Martha Argerich has shared the concert platform and the studio with many pianists, most notably with her compatriot Nelson Freire. Her collaborations have also included artists of a younger generation, among them Gabriela Montero, Alexander Gurning, Alejandro Petrasso and Lilya Zilberstein. This disc is a live recording from a charity performance in Livorno, the home town of another of her protégés, Gabriele Baldocci who is associated with the ‘Martha Argerich Presents’ project.
 
On the evidence of this CD, they make a great team; even if you have other recordings of these works - and even if Argerich herself is playing on them - this is a worthwhile purchase. As so often with this pianist, the live situation brings out the very best in her and this performance is no exception. Baldocci matches her for brio and panache. The playing sparkles throughout and there is a real feeling of conversation between two artists fully engaged with what the other is doing.
 
The Mozart sonata receives a typically full-blooded performance. You are reminded right at the start that D major is the key of some of Mozart’s grandest works. The performers are sensitive to Mozart’s changes of mood throughout and there are many subtleties. The fine version of the well-matched Lupu and Perahia is poised and classical in its approach but I am happy to also have the present CD’s playful interplay with its sharply etched ornaments and extremely lively finale. A small downside is that there are frequent reminders of the live audience in the second movement.
 
Shostakovich composed his Concertino for two pianos for himself and his then-student son Maxim to play together. In spite of the portentous opening, reminiscent of that of the second movement of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, this work feels like a not entirely serious showpiece with a characteristically manic conclusion. It is as if Shostakovich were sending himself up. Argerich, who has also recorded the piece with Zilberstein, and Baldocci play it for all it is worth. The ensemble is exemplary.
 
Rachmaninov’s first suite for two pianos turns up less in recordings than the more classical and sonata-like second. The performers respond well to the specific moods of the movements, which illustrate poems by Lermontov, Byron, Tjutcev and Chomjakov. The duo brings the required virtuosity to the florid writing for piano, particularly in the final movement’s bell effects.
 
Argerich and Baldocci give one of the best versions on record of the coruscating piano writing and extreme contrasts of Scaramouche. The rhythms of the outer movements are precise, the Brasileira being a very danceable samba. The unusually slow Moderé - about a quarter longer than Coombs’ and Pizarro’s account on Hyperion - provides many opportunities for conversational interplay.
 
Diaghilev’s reaction to hearing Ravel’s La Valse (as a piano duet) was that it is "not a ballet, it's a portrait of ballet" is understandable in the context of what he wanted. With our sophisticated modern understanding of, and penchant for, ironic metaphor, we are perhaps in a better position to appreciate the work, even if we accept Ravel’s denial that it had anything to do with the contemporary political situation or a “struggle between life and death”.
 
All that aside, we hear on this CD a massive account of this sometimes terrifying work, so different from the Valse Nobles et Sentimentales. Martha Argerich has also recorded it with Nelson Freire and Sergio Tiempo but this version can easily stand comparison with those performances.
 
This a well-contrasted programme of some of the best works in the two-piano repertoire given sparkling performances and I urge you to hear it.
 
Roger Blackburn 


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