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Jessica Duchen
Wednesday 2nd September 2009

Here's my review, in today's Independent, of Martha Argerich's Prom. Oh...with the RPO and Dutoit. If I'd been subtitling the review it would have read "A sublime solo in a night of otherwise forgettable stuff" but there we go.

Wouldn't you know it, someone smuggled in a camera (not me!) and has posted it on Youtube, so here's an extract - including her out-of-this-world Scarlatti encore.

Martha Argerich is utterly sublime. There are only a handful of pianists on the planet who operate on this level, and apart from a staggeringly amazing technique - prime within which I'd place tone quality and range of colour - it is somehow a matter of energy, of absolute involvement in the music rather than the ego, and the secure freedom to 'improvise' on the platform - to play with spontaneity but also to have the sonic imagination in the first place to create that spontaneity. That's a huge oversimplification, but you get my drift. The only people I'd put in the same, or at least a similar, bracket are Krystian Zimerman and Grigory Sokolov

One little point. Do these people make CDs? Do they hell. Zimerman has not released a solo piano CD in 20 years (though there've been a couple of concertos), and Argerich and Sokolov only like to be recorded live in concert. That must tell us something - I wonder what? Is it about personal standards?

And there's more. Argerich doesn't much like playing alone, while Sokolov, when I interviewed him about three years ago, declared his intention of giving up concertos because he felt he could never reach the requisite level when starting from scratch with a new band. As for Zimerman, he takes his own piano everywhere he goes. Again: personal standards - something that others are usually obliged to forget.I do not imagine that these people think of themselves as packets of crisps (see yesterday's post). In short: it is the music that matters. 

None of them submit to media and marketing pressure - they can sell concerts/what discs there are simply by being the greatest pianists on earth. They do publicity when/if they feel like it. Zimerman is not half as reclusive as some people make out, has a dazzling sense of humour and does agree to occasional interviews, notably with me. But Sokolov is interviewed only after a heck of a lot of persuasion; and Argerich...

...well, I sat opposite her at a lunch at the Verbier Festival about five years ago. She was surrounded by colleagues - Stephen Kovacevich, Mischa Maisky, Yuri Bashmet - plus a few of us admirers/hangers-on. I don't know how I ended up opposite her at the table, but I do know that as soon as she heard I was a journalist she would not say so much as one word to me, not even in lunchtime chitchat.

Every time I dared to try I got nothing back but a ferocious glare over the top of the sunglasses. I regressed instantly to the level of a gibbering 6-year-old. Even prostrating myself on the floor and saying "But Martha, we LOVE you and WORSHIP THE GROUND YOU WALK ON!" would probably not have helped. Pointing out that most of us are actually OK human beings and just a few out there get us all a bad name would not have helped either.

Sigh....At least, for about an hour, we breathed the same air...

If you didn't hear the Prom, catch it on BBC Radio 3's Listen Again before Sunday.

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September 16th, 2009
2:09 PM
An interesting point about Martha, Zimerman and Sokolov, (Grigory being, in my opinion, the greatest pianist alive). I would also add Pogorelich to the list of great individual voices that has seemingly given up the idea of recording solo piano CD's (11 years and counting for Ivo now).

Jo Mikan
September 14th, 2009
7:09 PM
I wish I could have been there. Your writings Jessica allowed me a glimpse. THanks Jo

Jessica Duchen
September 4th, 2009
10:09 AM
Do you play the piano, Herman?

September 3rd, 2009
9:09 PM
Frankly I have never heard an Argerich recording I liked. Her Chopin is awful, unmusical. I believe her entire concerto repertoire is, what? five concertos? which makes yet another performance of the Prokofiev 3 like watching a hamster in a treadmill. Unless, of course, you're a music journalist and you "worship the ground" Argerich walks on.

September 2nd, 2009
5:09 PM
Thanks, Jessica. Wish I could have been there, but alas am 6000 miles away. Interesting- Argerich and Zimerman have been my personal tops for many years but I haven't yet discovered Sokolov. Must go and do so forthwith!

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About Jessica Duchen

Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.

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