Norman Lebrecht Album of the Week 22 April

Martha Argerich album cover

Legendary Argentine pianst Martha Argerich does chamber music like no other, says Norman Lebrecht as he listens to the latest live recording from her Lugano festival.

Rating 4

Every summer, the veteran Argentine pianist Martha Argerich invites a few chums to the Swiss town of Lugano and, in an atmosphere devoid of festival elitism, asks them what they’d like to play. The resultant informality yields performances of high tension and, the following spring, a box set that breaks all the rules of record production and invariably shoots to the top of the chamber music charts. 

The crowning glory is a Mozart sonata. Nothing like it on record

It’s the conjunctions that surprise and delight. Where else could you hear three members of the Mischa Maisky family play, as if in their own living room, (together with Lyda Chen, viola) Mahler’s schoolwork piano quartet? Did you know there was a piano quintet by Nikolai Medtner, Rachmaninov’s closest friend? Lilya Zilberstein leads it with a powerful sense of Russian loss. 

Martha Argerich herself pops up partnering violinist Renaud Capuçon in a Prokofiev sonata and his cellist brother Gauthier in Schumann duets. It’s that kind of festival – you don’t know what’s coming next. The crowning glory is a Mozart sonata in D major for four hands, dashed off with wicked tempo variations by a pair of bustling grandmothers – Martha, and her pal Maria João Pires. Nothing like it on record.

Artists: Martha Argerich, Maria João Pires, Lilya Zilberstein (pianos), Renaud Capuçon (violin), Lyda Chen (viola), Gauthier Capuçon, Mischa Maisky (cello), etc.

Norman Lebrecht is a prolific commentator on music and cultural affairs and an award-winning novelist. See his blog Slipped Disc.

This album is released on 13 May.