Vienna, Konzerthaus; March 2, 2020—Martha Argerich is one of the very few classical music superstars that please both the hard-nosed aficionados and the broader public. She’s a Grigory Sokolov and Lang Lang rolled into one. If you don’t like Argerich, you also subscribe to “Curmudgeon Monthly”. Five decades into her career she increasingly resembles Mim (from “The Sword in the Stone”) and she can certainly still bewitch an audience and her fellow musicians as she did at the Konzerthaus with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra in Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto. After the lyrical first few notes, she immediately went into whirlwind-mode, whizzing through the pianistically written passages with demonstrative ease.
There is and was no sense of gratuitousness about her artistry, nor any trying to play to the audience or to get her soloist’s part to stand out more against the – in any case very well behaved and apparently well-rehearsed– orchestra under Lahav Shani. The strings (col legno), flute, and piano were terrifically coordinated at the end of the Allegro, which would have deserved more than the timid attempt of applause, instead of the cough-filled silence. One wishes the audience had followed its instinct (and the composer’s intent) instead of concert hall convention. The combination of temperament and nonchalance with which Argerich knocks out the part before her, from tempest to Saint-Saëns-like sweetness, makes this pianist special to this day. The recording made in sessions before the concert, although it will already be her sixth of this concerto, may yet be something to look forward to.
Possibly inspired by their musical collaborator, the orchestra continued along similar lines in Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances: Velvety, massive, and with an extra dollop of Rachmaninov-esque schmaltz, especially from the indulgent concertmistress. Ravel for four hands from Argerich and Shani, meanwhile, made for charming encores in a wholly satisfying concert.