Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich (Photo by Roberto Serra - Iguana Press/Redferns)
Artillery Row Lebrecht's Album of the Week

Captivating concertos

Beethoven/Ravel: Concertos (Avanticlassic)


Did anyone know that Pablo Casals had a kid brother who wrote him a concerto? Enrique Casals, 16 years younger, was a violinist and conductor. His cello concerto came to light three years ago, and the enterprising Jan Vogler has made a captivating world premiere recording of it on Sony. 

It was sitting on my deck destined to be named album of the week when, as so often happens, an unforeseen astonishment dropped through the letterbox and took pride of place. Let’s not get all wokey and egalitarian about this: the best is, always and forever, the enemy of even the very, very good indeed.

The best, in this case, is Martha Argerich making her first recording with a reinvigorated Israel Philharmonic and its empathetic music director Lahav Shani. Argerich has often performed down the years in Israel, acknowledging a shared Jewish heritage. The orchestral quality was variable, however, and she never wanted her Tel Aviv performances to be heard abroad — until now. 

Argerich used to like performing this piece without a conductor

The Israel Philharmonic is much younger than it was a decade ago, with a music director who went to school with many of his players. The timbre is keener, leaner, altogether more flexible. With a soloist of fragile temperament, it has learned to go with the flow.

There are two concertos on the album. In Beethoven’s opus 19 second piano concerto, Argerich resists Mozartian imitation, bringing out instead the deliberate obduracy and capricious time shifts of the mature Ludwig. She used to like performing this piece without a conductor; Shani here earns his keep by challenging her to the edge of every precipice. 

In the Ravel G major, the orchestra is more to the forefront. Its clackety opening may not match Berlin at its most mischievous, but soloist and ensemble are so mutually involved that such niceties hardly matter. Argerich is less assertive than in her famed recordings with Claudio Abbado, content to let Shani’s orchestra set the tone. The middle movement is almost an act of self-contemplation, an auto-psychoanalysis. The finale is scampering, crazy downhill fun. I’m listening to it for the fifth time with a grin as broad as the pampas.

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