, July 2011
Over a number of years, Martha Argerich, a reclusive Argentinian pianist, has achieved legendary status as much for performances played as for those canceled. Argerich has been an icon for a younger generation of pianists whose careers have been fostered through her annual music festival. The Verbier Festival, held in the shadows of the picturesque Swiss Alps, provides an ideal setting for the performing arts and has been a favored venue for Ms. Argerich for a decade. This Verbier Festival 2010 program, stemming from 2009 and 2010, presents works of Beethoven (Piano Concerto No. 2, B-flat Major, Op. 19), Shostakovich (Piano Concerto No. 1, in C Minor, Op. 35), and Bizet (Symphony in C Minor).
At first glance, these pieces would appear to have little in common until one realizes that all were written by composers who were only in their 20’s. Each composition has a youthful exuberance that Beethoven and Shostakovich would later shed, as would Bizet if he had lived long enough. It is an understatement to say that Argerich delivers the goods in both of the piano concertos. Just watching her collegial interactions and deft finger work are pure pleasures in themselves. The few clinkers that occurred during these concerts can be easily overlooked against a backdrop of sheer charisma and virtuosity.
The sole encore, Scarlatti’s Piano Sonata in D Minor, K 141, is given a breathtaking run through. Conductor Gabor Takacs bears an uncanny resemblance to his late Hungarian countryman Sir Georg Solti. However, unlike like his noted and hard-driving predecessor, Takacs provides a light touch to these basically delicate works. The youthful appearing festival orchestra performs precisely like proverbial Swiss timepieces. The videography is generally good and well balanced. The big “however” here is that the recording is only PCM 2.0 (48kHz/16-bit). This, I am certain, will be disappointing to those expecting the ambience of a lossless surround soundtrack.
As in many soloist-oriented video recordings, there is a great deal of attention paid to Ms. Argerich’s face and hands. This is interspersed with frequent cutaways to the featured members of the orchestra and the animated figure of Maestro Takacs. The intimacy of the relatively small orchestra is very well conveyed throughout. Color balances and details are excellent and the excited pace of all of these pieces is well captured by the cameramen.
I find it hard to understand why, in this day and age, a recently recorded live performance, would not take advantage of the highest quality audio modalities, such as DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. While surround channels are usually used for ambience, the sound spread and depth of multichannel reproduction is often helpful in conveying the “liveness” of the performance. The 2-channel sound is not terrible, but it seems relatively flat and lifeless when compared to other concert discs which have higher sampling rates, word lengths and multiple channels.
There are no significant supplements, just trailers for other Idéaleaudience videos.
The Definitive Word
I have been a Martha Argerich fan for nearly as long as I can remember. Although she has entered her 8th decade, I could not detect any diminution of her interpretative or technical powers. Taking this program as a case in point, Argerich shifts gears seamlessly over three centuries of keyboard music from Scarlatti to Shostakovich. Each work is voiced as the composer intended with appropriate dynamics and expression. This would not be meaningful if the other parts of this concert were not up to snuff, and they most certainly are. Conductor Takacs is a new face to me but if these performances are typical of his musicianship, then I am eagerly awaiting his next outing. The videography is capable if not extraordinary. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the sound recording. For a recent show, and at a premium price too boot, viewers should expect state-of-the-art high definition sound. In spite of the plain vanilla 2-channel soundtrack, the power and glory of this Verbier Festival performance will stir anyone willing to give it a go. You do owe it to yourself to see one of the pianistic legends of our times, doing what she does best, and giving the lucky audience a brief glimpse of keyboard heaven.