Everyday Rather Live in Classic Eras

Abbado & Argerich’s Mozart Piano Concert

The partnership of Claudio Abbado and Martha Argerich goes back a long way – to classic recordings of concertos by Ravel and Prokofiev from nearly five decades ago. But even by their standards, this collaboration, together with Abbado’s superlative Orchestra Mozart, is special. So it’s all the more poignant that news of the conductor’s death reached me mid-review. What shines through in these performances, caught live at the 2013 Lucerne Festival (and beautifully engineered), is the electrifying combination of the conductor’s fastidious yet generous-spirited music-making and Argerich’s flighty temperament. K503 is among the less often played of Mozart’s mature concertos, but it’s one of his very finest. The unobtrusive piano entry is beautifully judged by Argerich, Mozart’s phrases swelling and subsiding with complete naturalness. And the players of Orchestra Mozart match her freedom – no mean task – giving a real sense of give-and-take. The musicians may be exceptional, but it’s Abbado who ensures the perfect balance, the continuity of line as one player takes over from another; he is the unseen ringmaster. Some are tempted to go hell for leather in the finale of the C major Concerto, but here there is a tempo that admits a touching wistfulness too. In the D minor Concerto Abbado sets the scene superbly, with just the right degree of agitation from the pulsing strings. More than many, these readings point up the emotional ambiguity of the work. Argerich reminds us how much Beethoven learnt from this music, not least by playing his cadenzas in the outer movements (her choice of Friedrich Gulda’s cadenza for K503 is equally striking). The slow movement is unusually questioning, the minor outburst at its centre sounding entirely inevitable. And it’s only in the closing moments of the work that a hard-won ebullience finally shines through.