Martha Argerich: Complete Chopin Recordings
Universal 028948600083 (6 discs)
Classical - Instrumental
Chopin: Piano Sonatas 2 & 3, Scherzos 2 & 3, Barcarolle, Preludes, Mazurkas Op. 59, Andante spianato et Grande Polonaise brillante, Polonaise 'Heroic', Polonaise-Fantasie, Piano Concertos 1* & 2**, Introduction and Polonaise^, Cello Sonata^
Martha Argerich (piano)
Mstislav Rostropovich (cello^ & conductor**)
London Symphony Orchestra*
National Symphony Orchestra, Washington^
Claudio Abbado* (conductor)
Martha Argerich has been an outstanding Chopin interpreter for decades. Reason enough for Deutsche Grammophon to release all of the exceptional pianist's Chopin recordings for the yellow label in a new audiophile edition on the occasion of her 80th birthday on June 5: the 5-CD + 1 Blu-ray audio set "Martha Argerich - Chopin" In addition to her complete studio recordings, it also contains some radio recordings from the 1960s. With the exception of the audio-technically unsuitable duo recordings with Mischa Maisky, all studio recordings for the Blu-ray Audio were remastered and are now in stereo DTS-HD MA 2.0 24 bit / 192 kHz and Surround DTS-HD MA 5.1 24 bit / 96 kHz before and a fascinating Dolby Atmos remastering (24 bit / 48 kHz).
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- Frederic Chopin: 24 Preludes, Op. 28
- Frederic Chopin: 3 Mazurkas, Op. 59
- Frederic Chopin: Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante, Op. 22
- Frederic Chopin: Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op. 60
- Frederic Chopin: Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 65
- Frederic Chopin: Introduction and Polonaise Brillante in C major, Op. 3
- Frederic Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11
- Frederic Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21
- Frederic Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35
- Frederic Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58
- Frederic Chopin: Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53 'Heroic'
- Frederic Chopin: Polonaise-Fantaisie in A flat major, Op. 61
- Frederic Chopin: Prelude in A flat major, Op. P2 No. 7
- Frederic Chopin: Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 45
- Frederic Chopin: Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 31
- Frederic Chopin: Scherzo No. 3 in C sharp minor, Op. 39
Review by John Broggio - June 27, 2021
If you were to own only one hi-resolution set of Chopin, this is likely to be first choice for most collectors and not just for the breadth of repertoire covered.
As ever with this sort of "complete" collection (it is only complete for those recordings captured by Deutsche Grammophon), there are inevitably some performances that are less successful than others. Most of these do not make it onto the hi-resolution blu-ray that is offered in stereo, multi-channel and Dolby Atmos (which further extends surround sound into adding height channels and is fast becoming an industry standard - the Berliner Philharmoniker's Digital Concert Hall is adopting it soon); I don't have height channels but have listened to both the (original) stereo and the (re)created multi-channel versions.
Of those performances that don't make it onto the blu-ray that is a matter of regret are the (mono) radio recordings that comprise the fifth CD dating between 1959 and 1967, of particular interest being the concert performance of Chopin's third sonata given shortly after the studio recording was made - perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a little more spontaneity and remarkably little allowance required for any slight slips. The other performances that do not make it onto the blu-ray are the works for cello and piano with Mischa Maisky from a concert recital in Japan; to say that, in comparison to the accounts with Mstislav Rostropovich, these are somewhat wayward and self-indulgent is to be polite. For the most part though, the quality and imagination of these performances render suggesting alternatives superfluous.
The first performances are of the second and third piano sonatas; the qualities of these are almost too well known to state but suffice to say that the second comes over vividly in the extremely well remastered sound - the 1974 recording for the second is almost as good as brand new recordings that we enjoy from the likes of (say) PentaTone but the third has a slightly brittle quality to the timbre of the piano that betrays its earlier 1967 provenance. The persuasiveness of the interpretation which sweeps aside whatever limitations are present; the imagination on display is perhaps best illustrated in the sotto voce used in the "trio" of the funeral march and the finale of the second sonata which makes most others sound very prosaic by Argerich's side. The second and third scherzi and the barcarolle follow and are given equally imaginative and thrillingly virtuoso accounts; the second was set down at the same time as the second sonata and again has a wonderful recording to match the performance that has all the feel of the concert hall without any audience participation. The third scherzo and barcarolle are the earliest recordings (1960) to feature on the blu-ray and share the slightly brittle timbre that is also heard in the third sonata.
Next up is Argerich's 1975/77 accounts of the Preludes which is a little more extrovert than many other accounts and the Op. 28 set ends in a terrifically stormy manner that is quite removed from more "polite" accounts that are usually heard. Throughout each prelude is given a highly individual and imaginative response and the whole is also more than the sum of its parts. Completing the solo piano repertoire on the blu-ray are 3 Mazurkas, the "heroic" polonaise, the polonaise-fantasie (all from 1967, so again a little "brittle" sounding) with the andante spianato et grande polonaise brilliante (1974).
Perhaps most contrasted are the piano concertos, the first accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra and Claudio Abbado (1968) and the second by the National Symphony Orchestra and Mstislav Rostropovich (1978). Here, the recording quality is not matched by the quality of performances. The earlier (and less well recorded) performance of the first concerto is far more musically engaging than the second where, compared to everything else on the disc, it sounds like all the musicians are somewhat on autopilot. In the second, there is little of the imagination on the first on display and the orchestra sounds as lifeless as Chopin's orchestration is often portrayed. Here it is well worth obtaining Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 2 - Olejniczak, Mos or Chopin: Piano Concertos 1 & 2 - Fliter, Märkl for a better illustration of how this music can be conveyed. The chemistry and artistry of Argerich and Abbado make the (relative) limitations of the recording afforded to the first concerto pale into insignificance and it is a huge shame that an alternative partner was not found for the second concerto.
Perhaps saving the best until last, Mstistlav Rostropovich picks up his bow instead of the baton and performs some of the most celebrated cello and piano performances we are fortunate enough to have on disc. Some of what must have been DGs last analogue recordings in 1980, these completely belie their age in all aspects from performance to recording. The chemistry is extraordinary and although there is plenty of rubato deployed it is never self-indulgent and it is as DG have captured a concert (the slight fluff in the recapitulation of the first movement is still present).
The sound on offer in stereo is perfectly balanced, so much so that the (re)created surround sound offers relatively little in comparison to genuinely surround recordings. However, it still offers slightly more "air" around the piano and they manage to create a realistic decay of sound across the "hall", just as BIS did very successfully with the earlier parts of their Bach cantata survey. All recordings on the blu-ray have had almost all hiss successfully removed and the sound from the 1970s/80s needs no allowances made for it. The recordings from the 1960s are not bad but they are not of the same standard. Apart from a slightly "brittle" or "thin" timbre in the piano, there is mild congestion in the first concerto and the orchestra too sounds slightly restricted.
All in all, this is a wonderful set and contains many performances that all lovers of Chopin will enjoy repeatedly in hi-resolution sound. The one musical "dud" shouldn't put anyone off and, a bit like when listening to Rachmaninov play, the quality of the musicianship means that the ear quickly "forgets" any flaws.
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