PROKOFIEV FOR TWO Argerich, Babayan 4799854
Prokofiev is one of the composers with whom Martha Argerich has become most closely associated and those who have witnessed her performing the C Major Piano Concerto can only marvel at her technical facility and intense musicality. In this recording she is joined by American-Armenian pianist Sergei Babayan who is also a formidable Prokofiev interpreter . . . ["Romeo and Juliet"]: We are catapulted immediately into the middle of the unfolding dramatic events. In the dance numbers, Argerich and Babayan produce a vivid range of symphonic sonorities while displaying an impressive dynamic range (some of the pianissimo playing is just about audible while remaining exceptionally clear). The "Dance of the Knights" conjures up a gallery of doom-laden grotesques while providing moments of intimacy in the quiet middle section. The Gavotte is played with delicious humour and an elfin lightness of touch. There is tight interplay between the two performers in the joyous and celebratory Folk Dance and I enjoyed the rhythmic buoyancy they brought to the music. In "The Morning Serenade" the performers weave a series of dreamy arabesques embroidered with celestial filigree. The street scenes and portraits bring the characters and drama vividly to life. The flighty Juliet is an enchanting, vivacious character with a light spring in her step: one can only marvel at the delicacy which both performers bring to this music. The performers inject menace into the "Quarrel" which is full of demonic laughs and manic interjections. The lovers' departure is the penultimate piece in this set and has all the ingredients of a grand Romantic nocturne. Argerich and Babayan conjure up the moonlit scene well and bring tenderness to the music before erupting into full blooded passion. The final piece in the set starts with the rambunctious, energised music of Mercutio. Argerich's fans will enjoy some of the dazzling finger-work as the combustible Argentinian pianist and her Armenian partner set sparks flying. The piece ends with shattering rasping discords which hammer home the terrible nature of the dramatic events while at the same time bringing the set full circle . . . [Incidental Music to "Hamlet" & "Eugene Onegine" et al]: "The Ghost of Hamlet's father" starts at the bottom of the keyboard and both pianists succeed in conjuring up eerie atmospherics before confronting us with the existential terror of the ghost. The various dance movements are played with verve and panache while "Pushkin's Waltz" features artfully decorous lines and blossoms beautifully. The performers highlight some sharp contrasts between the grandiose public and intimate sides of "War and Peace in Andrei" and "Natasha's Waltz". In the final piece from "The Queen of Spades" both performers manipulate an obsessive rhythmic idea and once again display an impressive dynamic range. This disc features world-class playing by both performers and the Babayan transcriptions are destined to be taken up by other pianists and to be incorporated into the mainstream repertoire. Outstanding playing and bravo to both performers.