You may not listen to the disc often, but when you do, you'll probably remember the time and day.
Record Review /
Philadelphia Inquirer / 27. March 2005
The duo of cellist Mischa Maisky and pianist Martha Argerich is known for the virtuoso flair they bring to their performances. This recording from a 2003 Brussels concert is no exception. The way they tear into the wild second movement Allegro of the Shostakovich, with both artists rattling off its grotesqueries at warp speed, will have you at the edge of your chair. They're as admirable in the brooding Largo of that work and in conveying the rhapsodic Romanticism of the Prokofiev Sonata . . . Here's another must-have for their many fans.
Record Review /
Amazon.com / 01. May 2005
. . . an amazing recital, the ultimate demonstration of how two artists with individual ideas and the technical wherewithal to realise them in practice can tease, cajole, pull or push the line, toy with dynamics, experiment with rubato, in a word (all senses), really play . . . It's all there in the Introduction, Mischa Maisky's purring tone singing atop Argerich's stiletto staccato, the tiny delays, heightened colours.
Record Review /
Gramophone (London) / 01. June 2005
This is the most energetic and detailed ¿Suite Italienne¿ I have ever heard . . . This concert was clearly an event and I¿m glad DG gave it to us. These two are among the most involved and technically agile players in the business.
Record Review /
American Record Guide / 01. July 2005
This is very much a "de luxe" treatment of the "Suite italienne" . . . their performance has an immense range of expression and colour. Very effective and quite exhilarating, making the most of the opportunities Stravinsky gives them, and indeed making some of their own . . . incredible energy this cerntainly has.
Record Review /
International Record Review (London) / 01. July 2005
Record Review /
Musik & Theater (Zurich) / 01. May 2005
Eine kammermusikalische Sternstunde, wenn Mischa Maiskys mit edlem, weitschwingenden Ton spielt und Martha Argerich den Ruf einer temperamentgeladen zupackenden Begleiterin rechtfertigt. Rhythmisch meisterlich pointiert erscheint so Strawinskys "Suite italienne". Ob kantabel gespannte Lyrismen, marschartig artikulierte Themen der Prokofieff-Sonate, lodernd Expressives bei Schostakowitsch oder der augenzwinkernd charmant gespielte Walzer aus dem Ballett "Steinerne Blume": Alles sind klangschöne Belege für bruchloses Einverständnis in künstlerischen Fragen.
Record Review /
Stereo (Euskirchen) / 01. July 2005
. . . bieten Maisky und Argerich Interpretationen, die fast jeden gestalterischen Parameter in den Grenzbereich bringen.
Record Review /
Fono Forum (Euskirchen) / 01. July 2005
Wenn sich Mischa Maisky und Martha Argerich zum Duospiel zusammentun, kommt eines sicher nicht auf: Langeweile. Dies bestätigt sich auch beim Anhören der vorliegenden, anlässlich eines Konzerts in Brüssel im April 2003 aufgezeichneteten Life-Aufnahme, auf der die beiden Musiker mit drei der bekanntesten russischen Werke für Violoncello und Klavier zu hören sind. Überschäumende Spielfreude, eine unbändige Lust am Zuspitzen und Pointieren von Details sowie höchstes instrumentales Raffinement -- dies sind die hervorstechenden Merkmale dieses Rezitals.
Record Review /
Neue Zürcher Zeitung / 24. August 2005
Le Montagnana de Maisky et le tonnère Argerich font naturellement des vagues, mais on est frappé par l¿équilibre entre résonance et précision, l¿une laíssant à leur sonorité le loisir de s¿épanouir et l¿autre la contenant suffisamment pour en préserver l¿énergie. L¿attaque des cordes, à l¿archet ou aux marteaux, se propulse ainsi comme une flèche vers l¿auditeur et le met, pour ainsi dire, physiquement en vibration.
Le Soir (Brussels) / 24. April 2003
L'¿uvre néo-classique qu'est "Pulcinella" se marie difficilement avec le jeu expressionniste du violoncelliste . . . la pianiste est souveraine . . . Martha Argerich est un modèle d'engagement rythmique et sonore . . . d'indéniables beaux moments, assez nombreux . . . Martha Argerich est fidèle en amitié.
Record Review /
Classica - Repertoire (Paris) / 01. April 2005
. . . un arreglo de «Pulcínella» . . . donde Maisky hace literalmente cantar a su instrumento . . . La compenetración entre ambos es tal, que hasta puede escucharse al público reír de puro gozo.
Record Review /
Melómano (Madrid) / 01. April 2005
Los intérpretes, de lujo . . . ¡Qué bien traducen el neoclasicismo, un tanto jocoso e irreversible, de Stravinsky! . . . Elegancia, sofisticación y porte. Pero la cosa va en aumento y en Prokofiev el nivel se está elevando peligrosamente: reciedumbre, profundidad, virtuosismo y poesía. ¡Ahí estamos, faltaría más! Dos grandes instrumentistas en vena y compenetrados al máximo. Al final una colosal sonata de Shostakovich que rubrica un concierto que sabe a poco y te deja con la miel en la boca. ¡Más, por favor!
Record Review /
Pedro Sancho de la Jordana Dezcallar,
Ritmo (Madrid) / 01. May 2005
The Russian Album
Martha Argerich & Mischa Maisky Play Stravinsky · Prokofiev · ShostakovichTwo of the world's greatest instrumentalists join forces for a programme of Russian music for cello and piano
When two stars of the magnitude of Argerich and Maisky get together to make music, it's an event. A big event. The renowned pianist and cellist have been close friends for nearly 30 years, but their busy schedules rarely allow them time to play together the music they love or to explore new repertoire together, let alone make recordings. This charity concert provided them with the ideal opportunity to do just that with a programme which, according to Mischa Maisky, they had been discussing on and off for ten years!
The first time that Argerich and Maisky appeared together in public was a concert in Berlin on 17 April 1978. By coincidence this also happened to be the 75th birthday of the great Russian cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, one of Mischa Maisky's two distinguished teachers, Mstislav Rostropovich being the other. It is Maisky's link to all three composers through his teachers that lends this recording an extra fascination.
SUITE ITALIENNE In 1932, Piatigorsky approached his friend Stravinsky with a request to make a cello suite from the music of Stravinsky's 1920 ballet Pulcinella. The composer had already fashioned a suite for violin in 1925 for the violinist Paul Kochanski. The result of the collaboration between Stravinsky and Piatigorsky was very different - a slightly different choice of music and less awkward writing for the string soloist. The movements are Introduzione, Serenata, Aria, Tarantella, Minuetto e Finale.
"Piatigorsky loved this piece", Maisky recalls. "He arranged it for cello and piano, and then again for just violin and cello (he recorded it with Heifetz). Then he arranged it for four cellos and played it with his students. Although it was his initiative and he did the whole arrangement, Stravinsky, you could say, supervised it."
PROKOFIEV Though Maisky and Argerich have played the Stravinsky and Shostakovich works together many times, the Prokofiev Sonata was new to the pianist. This concert was her first public performance of the work, written in 1949 for the 20-year-old Mstislav Rostropovich, though she played its second movement as an encore with Rostropovich at the only recital they have ever given together (July 1978 in Rio de Janeiro).
Composed not long after an official condemnation of his music and the arrest of his first wife (he had remarried in the meantime), Prokofiev's sonata shows few signs of this troubled period in his life. It is in three movements - Andante grave, Serenata, Allegro ma non troppo - and abounds with characteristic ingredients of his mature style: spiky march themes sitting alongside searingly beautiful lyrical passages. The writing for cello and piano in the first and second movements has some of the loveliest interplay in the modern cello repertoire. SHOSTAKOVICH Shostakovich's Cello Sonata, which received its premiere in 1934, is one of the composer's most lyrical works. The two contrasted themes of the opening movement (the first elegiac, the second brighter in mood) are followed by a lilting waltz with satirical suggestions. In the third movement (Largo) the cello chants a beautiful song of sorrow; the closing Allegretto is in rondo form. Shostakovich described the raucous middle section of the finale to Rostropovich (with whom Maisky studied the work) as depicting a wild Russian party. "And then", says Maisky, "the cello comes in with the theme and it's like it's four in the morning and he's completely drunk... so I allow myself to make some sounds... which can be interpreted by people in whichever way they want!" This, and other minor changes to the printed score heard in this recording, come via Rostropovich - fruits of his long associations with the composer and the sonata, now handed down to Maisky.
For their encore Argerich and Maisky came up with a real rarity: the little waltz that forms part of the Act II divertimento in Prokofiev's last ballet, The Tale of the Stone Flower (composed in 1948-53, staged in 1954). Originally entitled "Waltz of the Diamonds", it was arranged by Piatigorsky and then revised by another celebrated Russian cellist, Sviatoslav Knushevitsky - "Or the other way round!" says Maisky. "No one is certain." A shorter, simplified version by Piatigorsky was also printed in the West.
The rehearsals were taped as well as the concert, so there were several different versions already recorded when Argerich and Maisky met the next day for the patch session. When they listened to the tape of the concert, however, they were both happy with what they heard and decided, as it would be impossible to recapture the atmosphere of the previous evening, to leave well alone. "It's not as completely perfect as it would be in a studio recording," says Maisky, "but so what?"
The cellist is generous in his tribute to Argerich. "It is not very often you meet someone with whom you have the kind of rapport that I have with Martha, that innate understanding. We have always shared a love of the same music. I always say that Martha is so unbelievably gifted that where a normal musician might take two months to learn something and a talented musician would take two weeks, Martha could do it in two days! In fact, it takes two years to talk about it!"
Or, in this case, ten years. The results have been well worth waiting for.
Three Russian Giants
Chamber works by Stravinsky, Shostakovich & Prokofiev
All three of these composers came from essentially the same stock - Prokofiev and Stravinsky were both taught by Rimsky-Korsakov, while Shostakovich was taught by his son-in-law - yet Stravinsky regarded the music of both of the others as fatally compromised by their Soviet status. It is clear that all were very different musical personalities: where Prokofiev is generously lyrical,
Shostakovich remains aloof; where Stravinsky is elegant and witty, Shostakovich is pointedly grotesque.
But these are musical, not political, differences; as this programme illustrates, over half a century after the latest work here, no listener could pinpoint what might be “Soviet" about the Shostakovich or Prokofiev sonatas.
Equally, there is nothing here to suggest that Stravinsky was the innovator among them: as Prokofiev was at work on this sonata Stravinsky was writing his neoclassical opera The Rake's Progress, a work that paradoxically fulfilled official demands for “accessible" music in the ultra-conservative climate of post-war Russia. Prokofiev's sonata, meanwhile, was not played until after Stalin's death.
Though relations between these three giants of Russian music were never simple, they were at various times well acquainted. Prokofiev knew Stravinsky well during their years in Paris, and after his return to the Soviet Union in 1936 he regularly met with Shostakovich. Shostakovich was to meet his one-time idol Stravinsky only when the older composer finally visited Khrushchev's Russia in 1962.
Stravinsky made his first arrangement of music from his 1920 ballet Pulcinella in 1925 for the violinist Paul Kochanski. When Gregor Piatigorsky approached the composer with a request for a cello suite in 1932, the result (entitled Suite italienne) was very different: the close collaboration between composer and cellist meant that much of the awkwardness of the earlier arrangement - in particular its clumsy triple and quadruple stopping - was considerably softened. Moreover, the movements Stravinsky and Piatigorsky selected from Pulcinella for the cello suite are slightly different: instead of the Gavotte used in the violin suite, they chose the Allegro alla breve and two Andantes from scenes 3 and 4 of the ballet.
The loss of the delicate Gavotte is more than compensated by the beauty of these Andantes, which mark the emotional high point of the Pulcinella score. In the suite, these three movements are combined into a single “Aria".
Each of the three Pulcinella transcriptions (another violin suite was written in collaboration with Samuel Dushkin in 1934) has a distinctive character. In some respects, the cello suite refers especially closely to the orchestral score. For example, the piano's tremolo-style accompaniment at the start of the Serenata (absent from the other two arrangements) clearly evokes the ballet's
shimmering saltando accompaniment. On the other hand, there is a world of difference between the upfront eccentricity of the Minuetto, with its quirky cello glissandi and robust pizzicato triple-stopping, and the mellow pastorale of the ballet. In this respect, the Piatigorsky /Stravinsky transcription simply continues the process of arrangement begun by Stravinsky when he
first began tweaking Pergolesi's trio sonatas and arias, retaining the bass lines and melodies but ruffling the inner parts to create pungent harmonies that are distinctly 20th-century.
To many of Shostakovich's contemporaries, the Cello Sonata seemed disappointingly conservative at its premiere in 1934. His image as the Soviet Union's enfant terrible had not yet faded despite his very public return to a more “accessible" musical language in his acclaimed opera Lady Macbeth, premiered the previous year. After a decade spent composing numerous film, theatre and ballet scores Shostakovich determined not to expend more of his energy on projects that did not actively interest him; the Cello Sonata is one of the first works for a long time that he wrote for his own pleasure.
Around this time he wrote various articles describing his search for a simple, clear expressive language. Though that search was to take him into the deeply ambivalent world of the Fourth Symphony of 1936, the Cello Sonata is clearly an early manifestation of this new trend. In many ways, it looks forward to later chamber works such as the early quartets and the Second Piano Trio rather than back to Shostakovich's preexperimental period. The grotesque inflections of the scherzo, for example, are entirely typical of his middle-period style, with its strong leanings towards Jewish folk music. So too is the monolithic tone of the Largo, which completely turns its back on the arioso style that Shostakovich had used to such stunning effect in Lady Macbeth: the numbness that pervades this movement was to become a dominating feature of his late style. Only the raucous middle section of the finale - which Shostakovich apparently described to Rostropovich as depicting a wild Russian party from which the guests stagger unsteadily home - has something of the cheekiness of his earlier music.
After the success of his Fifth Symphony in 1945, Prokofiev was for the first time ranked alongside Shostakovich as a great Soviet symphonist and patriot - a status that had eluded him since his return to the Soviet Union in 1936. Despite a serious fall in 1945, his future looked brighter than it had done for a long time. But behind the scenes, disaster loomed. When the infamous post-war attacks on literature and philosophy were turned on music in 1948, Prokofiev found himself on the receiving end of years of nursed grudges from colleagues who had long resented his international reputation. With his official position severely weakened and his health failing, Prokofiev was powerless to intervene in the sudden arrest of his first wife, Lina, left in a dangerously vulnerable position after his remarriage to Mira Mendelson earlier that year. It was effectively a return to the dark days of Stalinist interference in the arts during the mid- to late-1930s.
Yet the Cello Sonata, written in 1949 for the 20-year-old Rostropovich, shows scarcely any sign of the fear and misery of those years. Its C major (both outer movements end in that key) links it with the Ninth Piano Sonata (1947) and Romeo and Juliet (1937), though the finale refers at least obliquely to that of the Fifth Symphony. All the familiar ingredients of Prokofiev's mature style
abound: spiky, march-like themes sit alongside searingly beautiful lyricism; the Andante dolce of the second movement alone could have been lifted straight out of Romeo and Juliet. The first and second movements in particular are woven together with elegantly crafted imitative writing that produces some of the loveliest interplay between cello and piano in the modern cello repertoire.
The Stone Flower was the last of Prokofiev's ballets. Although he wrote it in the turbulent year 1948, it was not staged until 1954, a
year after Stalin's death. Originally entitled “Waltz of the Diamonds", this little waltz forms part of a divertissement in Act II depicting various temptations offered to the hero Danilo by the Mistress of the Stone Flower. Piatigorsky and Kiushevitsky's delightful arrangement retains the lightness and piquancy of the original scoring.