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Arts Desk
Every week, on the air and online, you'll hear music from new releases and favorite albums that have been carefully selected for your listening pleasure. Check out our posts for commentary from our hosts and video highlights for each Classical Album of the Week.

Classical Album of the Week: For Pianist Martha Argerich, 80 Is The New 20!

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July 26, 2021.  To be 80 years old, still vitally contributing to one’s art and performing at peak level — yes, it’s possible, even on an instrument as mentally and physically demanding as the piano. Just listen to Martha Argerich in our Classical Album of the Week.

In her first-ever recording of Claude Debussy’s Fantasie for Piano and Orchestra, Argerich brings her incisive technique, infinite variety of touch and vivid imagination to Debussy’s sound world with the freshness of a 20-something.

The Fantasie is the only work Debussy wrote in piano concerto form. He began it early in his career, often revisited and tinkered with it, and never heard a complete performance in his lifetime. Written in three movements like a typical piano concerto, it’s a tone poem with piano passages that glitter, surge, and drive, but never dominate, the narrative.

Argerich’s fine partner in this performance, just released by Deutsche Grammophon, is the storied Staatskapelle Berlin, under the direction of its music director for life, Daniel Barenboim. Barenboim, 78, knew Argerich when they were both piano prodigies growing up in Buenos Aires, and the remainder of this Debussy album features Barenboim as a collaborative pianist, and as a conductor.

For two of Debussy’s final works, Barenboim’s partners are two of the principal players of his other permanent orchestra, the West-East Divan Orchestra (founded in 1999 to promote peace and communication among young musicians of the Middle East.) Michael Barenboim, Daniel’s son, is concertmaster of the West-East Divan, and the violinist in Debussy’s last work, his forward-looking Sonate pour violon et piano.

The Persian cellis Kian Soltani, principal cello of the West-East Divan, brings gorgeous tone to Debussy’s masterful Sonate pour cello et piano. To this listener, a slight deliberateness from the pianist in the faster movements of both sonatas prevent the performances from taking flight.

No such carefulness hampers Barenboim’s conducting of Debussy’s tone poem La Mer. (The Sea.) The first movement of La Mer, D’aube a midi sur la mer (From Dawn to Noon on the Sea,) depicts a glorious morning of undulating waves, glittering sun on the water, diving sea birds, and a majestic seascape.

La Mer’s second movement, Jeux de vagues (Play of the Waves) shows the sinuous, suddenly shifting nature of the ocean. Mercurial passages from the wind instruments ride the larger swells provided by the strings.

Finally, Dialogue du vent et de la mer (Dialogue of the wind and the sea) unleashes the full, sometimes violent, power of the sea when whipped up by a forceful wind. It’s a dialogue that demands our full attention.

Throughout, Barenboim and Staatskapelle Berlin provide a pellucid texture, marvelous sweep, and an immersive listening experience to Debussy’s great  orchestral work.

Read more about Martha Argerich here.