The fifth evening of the Martha Argerich Festival in Hamburg was a chamber music event with the grande dame of the piano surrounded by a group of friends and collaborators in a veritable musical potpourri.

Gérard Caussé
© Hamburg Symphony

Liszt considered his transcription for piano of Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture as a “paraphrase” but also as “serving as modest propaganda for Wagner’s noble genius”. Regardless, it is actually a very faithful reduction for piano of the original (Dresden) score. It used to be a popular warhorse at piano recitals, but less so now, not for the lack of virtuosos capable of rendering it. Sophie Pacini offered a fine version indeed, full of force and precision, perhaps missing a level of subtlety.

Brahms’ Viola Sonata in E flat major Op.120 no.2 is also a transcription, but one conceived by the author himself, the original being part of his late series of compositions inspired by the special tonal colour of the clarinet. In Gérard Caussé and Nicholas Angelich’s rendition, the autumnal mood pervading this music was made clear, particularly in the finale with its shadowy and melancholic variations. Even the unexpectedly powerful central movement had a dark quality, despite the music’s attempt to portray heroic passions. In a sonata where piano and viola are truly equal partners, the two interpreters seemed to play one single instrument, constantly exploring changes in key and timbre.

Sergei Nakariakov
© Hamburg Symphony

Besides Liszt’s pyrotechnical opus, the other rarely played work of the evening was Saint-Saëns’ Septet in E flat major, written for the unusual combination of trumpet, piano and strings. Not only is the instrumentation unconventional, but the four-movement score is a mixture of influences – from Lully and Rameau to Schumann – with competing Baroque and Romantic elements that work surprisingly well together. One would expect the trumpet to dominate the soundscape whenever it intervenes, but the expert Sergei Nakariakov, playing with subdued eloquence, did not allow this to happen, brass and strings blending well. The cohesiveness of the ensemble, with all string players (except violist Lyda Chen) being section leaders of the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra (the festival’s host) was palpable throughout the performance. It was especially remarkable during the Intermède¸ the most romantic of all the movements, with its main theme first introduced by the cello (Eugene Lifschitz) and then taken over by viola, followed by the violins (Adrian Iliescu, Paweł Kisza) and trumpet. The piano (Dong Hyek Lim) had its own moments of virtuosic glory, mainly in the Lisztian chords in the Préambule and in the final Gavotte, the two movements where contrapuntal essays are also most prominent.

Mischa Maisky
© Hamburg Symphony

Martha Argerich only appeared in the last work on the programme, exploring with great cogency and vigour Shostakovich’s classically proportioned Cello Sonata in D minor together with her long-time collaborator, Mischa Maisky. It was a rendition full of wonderful moments: the piano bringing out the affectionate second theme in the Allegro; the almost Schubertian – despite the dissonances – cello-intoned cantilena in the Largo foreshadowing the composer’s later style; the biting satire in the quasi moto perpetuo second movement; the film-music reminiscences in the similarly athletic, sassy, Finale.

Maisky and Argerich ended the evening with a heartfelt rendition of Brahms’ brief lied Lerchengesang, adapted for cello and piano. Karl August Candidus’ original text starts with a reference to the “Ätherische ferne Stimmen” (ethereal distant voices). The “voices” recalled in this Hamburg evening felt least distant due to a group of wonderful performers, all appearing together at the end for a final bow.

This performance was reviewed from the Paramax Films live video stream