Thursday, June 25, 2020

Grosser Saal, Laeiszhalle, Johannes-Brahms-Platz, 20355 Hamburg, Germany

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Another chamber recital from Martha Argerich, another one-man/support act show. “Martha Argerich & Renaud Capuçon” went the billing, and that’s what we got. She comes on, shuffles uncomfortably at the Steinway, preludes an arpeggio, and we’re off. Seldom any eye contact. Not a smile. From her body language, plenty seemingly to be belligerent about. This is her night, she glares disdainfully, make no mistake. I do what I do, you follow me. All her trademarks were on display. Fabulous facility, razor-sharp runs, bright even trills, a Concerto-like approach to octaves, chords, tuttis and projection. Yet also, in Chopin’s B-minor Sonata, a certain mushiness of pedalling, as well as a tendency to rush phrases breathlessly and to feather the more bravura passages – conjuring an aural/visual sense of muscle memory at work more than firm digital contact. Some moments left an impression, particularly in the slow movement – yet underlying unease deprived much of the action of absolute authority and insight. Listen, I’ve done all this before, let’s just get on with it…

Capuçon, silken-toned but occasionally fallible in his higher register, had a rough ride. In Beethoven’s G-major Sonata, Opus 30/3 – scaled to meet the “piano with violin accompaniment” prescription of the original title-page – Argerich set the pace and attack, and it was only variably comfortable, ensemble and phrasing paying a price. The central Minuet spoke with a certain eloquence but was on the indulgently slow, anti-terpsichorean side. The Finale’s semiquavers boiled furiously, more bad-tempered than vivacious, the livestream balance unattractively favouring keyboard, Capuçon straining to be heard.

No concession pianism, the violin pushed hard, produced a loose, fitful César Franck Sonata, ragged enough in places (the muddy bite of the second movement for instance) to suggest shortage of rehearsal. Argerich’s pulse kept swimming, her big moments persistently overpowered, and any possibilities to charm or be lyrical, to explore the texture and place the music’s drama, went largely unnoticed. I wanted enlightenment, some chemistry with her partner, a less unloving relationship with her instrument.

Occasionally you meet situations where, straight away, other performances are needed to righten affronts or cue chances missed. Hot on the heels of Argerich/Capuçon, I turned to the wit of Kreisler and Rachmanivov (1928) to help put Beethoven back on an even keel. Of today’s generation, the extravagantly gifted Noa Wildschut and Elisabeth Brauss, passionate but respectful (2018, YouTube), know exactly how the greater realms of Franck might be reached.