PRIMO AND PRIMO
A strange thing happened on the way to the duo piano recital of the once-married pianists Martha Argerich and Stephen Kovacevich at Disney hall last Saturday. A few minutes before the Debussy-heavy program began, the normal “turn off your cell phones” pre-show announcement (which doggedly refuses to castigate crinkling programs and whispered asides), was shunned in what seemed almost like a joke at first.
We were told that Rachmaninoff’s two-piano arrangement of his Symphonic Dances, originally scheduled for the second half of a challenging program, would be played first. This is fine. Why, then, was it announced that one pianist hurt a hand (I would later find out Kovacevich) and break a tooth (Argerich)? Did she, at 75, and he, at 76, need some kind of warning that their normal virtuosic playing would somehow be marred by injury? Hardly. While she maintained her trademark clear projections, clean textures, and color variation (her runs are intrepid while offering distinct notes at the same time), he brought a restrained soulfulness and lively tinges of expression to seemingly every note. So while these two are as different in style as they may have been in their brief marriage in the 1970s (which produced daughter Stéphanie Argerich), they were well-suited to the material. I must say that volume was an issue for me as the pianists didn’t always play off each other, strange given that the pianos were facing the same direction.
Who could argue with the exquisite dreaminess of the three Debussy pieces after intermission? There were vivid reverberations in Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (the composer’s own transcription); sophisticated sonorities in Lindaraja; and crystalline colors in the three-movement En Blanc et Noir. Because the program didn’t contain more challenging works, and because there wasn’t greater diversity, this felt more a legacy concert than a recital of skill, especially when compared to the recent playing of Daniil Trifonov, Evgeny Kissin, Murray Perahia, or Joyce Yang.
Still, it’s almost revelation to hear a resplendent “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” as the first of three encores; the duo twinkled like Tchaikovsky’s titular creatures. With soft, delicate intimacy, they then offered another version of Debussy’s Lindaraja and one of Brahms’ Liebeslieder waltzes.
It’s true that Kovacevich is world-class, but I wondered if it was the one-of-a-kind Argerich, sporting her trademark silver mane, who was the draw here. This is her only U.S. appearance this season that I’m aware of; she doesn’t do solo recitals, rarely does concertos, and appearances are unpredictable, so it’s with gratitude and relief that she showed up at Disney Hall to please her sold-out crowd.
photos courtesy of LA Phil
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Martha Argerich & Stephen Kovacevich in recital
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave.
played on April 8, 2017
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