It's criminal that Deutsche Grammophon waited almost thirty years to reissue these excellent recordings as a Compact Disc edition. Never mind the middling late Karajan discs or all this overwrought Lang Lang tripe that they're defecating into mass-production these days - this 1967 release is the finest of many stunning collaborations between Argerich and Abbado at the distinguished helm of the BPO.
The first of the two piano concertos on this disc is Prokofiev's third, and it's undoubtedly one of the best performances of both Argerich's and Abbado's respective careers. The performance ebbs and flows naturally with note-perfect precision and vibrant (but never overstated), colorful dynamics. Argerich has a keen understanding of any composer's more playful sensibilities, which is why her intuition has always been especially insightful when interpreting repertoire works that express wit by the likes of Prokofiev. Cliché as it is, the only complaint that one could direct at this recording is that it's too short - after three thrilling, relatively brief movements, one is left breathless, but wanting even more. If a better performance of this work has been committed to disc, I'm not familiar with it. Argerich's 1998 recording (paired with Dutoit and the MSO) is good but inferior to this, and the Prokofiev/LSO/Coppola recording available from Naxos suffers from the deterioration of its source; due to the poor quality of the latter recording, many aspects of that terrific performance are impossible to evaluate.
The recording of the Ravel piano concerto is almost as exhilarating as that of the Prokofiev concerto, for all the same reasons. Both pianist and orchestra tackle the amusing inventions that Ravel invested in this remarkable piece. The three part form of the second movement is especially well navigated, something that can't be said of many other performances of this composition.
The expanded storage capacity of the CD format permits another recording in addition to the two of the original Prokofiev/Ravel LP: Argerich's amazing 1974 performance of Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit. If any recording presents this composition as the one of the most difficult of the standard repertoire and Argerich as one of the finest pianists of her generation, it's this one. Both technically and expressively, it is almost incomparably superb, only surpassed by Pogorelich's brilliant interpretation. Argerich exhibits a curious insight pertaining to Ravel's unique, macabre adaptation of Bertrand's poem, and her execution of what Ravel called a "caricature of romanticism" does this insight justice. The speed and tonal color produced in her performance of the infamously difficult Scarbo movement is almost inhuman, and must be heard to be believed. This recording was originally released on LP along with numerous other excellent Ravel solo piano works such as Valses nobles et sentimentales and Sonatine. Most of those other recordings are available on different DG compilations, and the inclusion of Gaspard succeeding the two concertos on this disc feels appropriate.
Like most of the discs in DG's "The Originals" reissue series, the remastering of these recordings is adequate, but hardly exceptional. The original recordings of the concertos were a bit too bright (almost harsh), and the remastered versions amend this while rendering the soft passages a bit too subdued. Overall, this is a fair trade-off. At the cut price, you can't possibly go wrong with this phenomenal release.
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About the reviewer
Robert Buchanan (rbuchanan)
I'm a bibliophile, ailurophile, inveterate aggregator, dedicated middlebrow and anastrophizing syntax addict. My personality type is that of superlative INTJ.
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