Martha Argerichs long career has included many outstanding solo performances, but she has often professed to feeling lonely on stage. This CD showcases the area in which she feels truly at home. All these recordings derive from performances at Martha Argerich’s annual Lugano Festival made between 2003 and 2009. Apart from their original release, most of them have appeared on other (mixed-composer) compilations, so dedicated Rachmaninov and/or Argerich fans will have them already. But this is, I think, the first time that one performance from the festival of every work Rachmaninov wrote for two pianists has been issued together.
It is, though, rather more than a convenient repertoire compendium because, taken overall, there are few finer versions anywhere of each title. Argerich has been playing the major works here (Symphonic Dances and the two Suites) for years and has recorded them with other favoured partners (Rabinovitch, Freire and Economou among others). There is not much to choose between them but the Lugano recordings have the advantage of the lively, rounded acoustic of the Stelio Molo auditorium and the undoubted benefit of having an audience present. Moreover, Nelson Goerner, in the only performance new to disc, brings more colour and depth to his playing than either Rabinovitch or Economou in the Symphonic Dances (especially in the central ‘Valse’), while Lilya Zilberstein’s nightingale in ‘La nuit’ from Suite No 1 is simply enchanting. Suite No 2 with Gabriela Montero is not as frantic as Argerich’s earlier accounts yet remains just as thrilling.
Disc 2 (40’04”) has four less substantial works, though Zilberstein and Argerich playing one piano four hands in the Six Duets (the earliest Lugano recording of this set) make you wonder why we don’t hear Rachmaninov’s Op 11 more often. Argerich leaves the stage for the two short works for piano six hands, Romance in A (with its prescient glimpse of the Second Concerto) and Waltz in A, in which Zilberstein is joined by her two sons. And it is Zilberstein not Argerich who partners Alexander Mogilevsky in another early work, the rarely heard Russian Rhapsody in E minor for two pianos. All in all, a Rachmaninov-fest to savour.