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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Progretto’s Progress

MARTHA ARGERICH’S LUGANO FESTIVAL (Progretto Martha Argerich) is in its 15th year, with a just-completed schedule of events that bodes to be its last. Switzerland’s BSI bank has dropped funding – a move said to be unrelated to the bank’s indictment for criminal activity – and there’s no native sponsor who can replace the amount.

Which means that the three-CD set “Live from Lugano 2015" may be the penultimate such edition, and that’s a shame. The festival has spawned 13 three-CD sets, a four-CD set of concertos, and a handful of single CDs, and they’re all treasures. The Argerich imprimatur guarantees good performances, even when she herself isn’t participating. And the festival has always brought together old friends and fresh talent, the latter including such now-stars as the Capuçon brothers and pianist Gabriela Montero.

In other words, you can trust the performances, even if you’ve never heard of the players. Better still, you can trust the repertory, which always is shrewdly programmed to mix the unfamiliar with the warhorses. Typically there’s a big, familiar lead-off piece, although the recently issued 2015 edition pulls a small switcheroo by giving us Brahms’s Horn Trio, Op. 40, in the viola version.

It has a different sound, to be sure, without the wistful timbre of the horn, but that’s also the version I’m most accustomed to hearing. So I believe I’ll get used to violist Nathan Braude’s sound, especially as he’s so ably partnered by violinist Ilya Gringolts, and pianist Alexander Mogilevsky.

The clarinet is firmly in place in Brahm’s Trio, Op. 114, with Paul Meyer on woodwind duty. He’s joined by Lugano favorites Gautier Capuçon on cello and pianist Nicholas Angelich, who easily summon the intense but easygoing moods this piece suggests. Brahms is also represented by the movement he contributed to the F-A-E Sonata, a violin sonata written by a consortium of friends to honor Schumann. His scherzo is played by violinist Mayu Kishima and pianist Akane Sakai.

What a treat to find, among the less-known works on this set, Turina’s evocative Piano Trio No. 2, performed by siblings Alissa, Natalia, and Jura Margulis (violin, cello, and piano, respectively). I’ve grown familiar enough with Turina’s Trio No. 1 to welcome what’s obviously from the same skilled hand.

The Piano Quintet Op. 74 by Beethoven student Ferdinand Ries is scored for the same ensemble Schubert used for his Trout Quintet, which means that double bassist Enrico Fagone is featured, along with violinist Andrey Baranov, violist Lyda Chen, cellist Jing Zhao, and pianist Lilya Zilberstein. To call the piece Beethoven Lite isn’t meant as an insult to Ries: even coming close to the master is significant.

Argerich’s recordings in this set are almost exclusively two-piano works, including Debussy’s two-piano arrangement of Schumann’s Six Canonic Etudes, Op. 56 (with Zilberstein), Debussy’s En blanc et noir (with Stephen Kovacevich), and Schubert’s Variations for Two Pianos, D. 813
(with Mogilevsky). And she’s the pianist in a jaunty version of Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances, Sz. 56, arranged for violin and piano, with Géza Hosszu-Legocky.

Not all of the multi-piano work features Argerich: Sergio Tiempo and Karin Lechner perform Poulenc’s Sonata for 2 Pianos, and the trio of Giorgia Tomassi, Carlo Maria Griguoli, and Alessandro Stella perform Griguoli’s arrangements of music by Philip Glass – a suite from his dance opera Les enfants terrible, nicely set and played – and Alberto Ginastera, the latter four dances from his ballet Estancia, in which the orchestral color of the original is greatly missed.

Two pianos and orchestra are the configuration for the most fascinating work in this collection – fascinating, in part, because of its freshness, but mostly due to its stunning combination of melodic beauty and rhythmic complexity. Argentinian composer Luis Baclov has written over 50 film scores (and nabbed an Oscar for his score for Il postino) and many concert works; Porteña (Latitud 34̊ 36' 30") premiered a month before the performance recorded here.

The title – and the titles of the eleven short sections comprising the piece – refers to the port city of Buenos Aires, the longest section honoring an area of the city called Corrientes y 9 de julio. Argerich and Eduardo Hubert are the pianists, with the Svizzera Italiana Orchestra conducted by Alexander Vedernikov.

The discs themselves are programmed to encourage start-to-finish listening, with a good variety from track to track and from disc to disc, and, as usual, the recording quality of these live performances is superb. The end may be near for the festival itself, but this set serves as yet another important monument to its legacy.

Martha Argerich & Friends

Live from Lugano 2015
Warner Classics

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