After 15 years of musical camaraderie under the aegis of the Progetto Martha Argerich, masterminded by the ubiquitous Argentine-Swiss pianist in the picturesque lake-side town of Lugano, Hamburg’s Laeiszhalle has, in recent years, given a home to the Martha Argerich Festival in a similar spirit, inviting her friends and a number of young artists under her caring mentorship to participate. This year, the 12-day festival also serves as a splendid celebration of Argerich’s 80th birthday.

Margulis Trio
© Hamburg Symphony Orchestra

Monday's programme began with two compositions given bythe Margulis Trio (Alissa, violin, Natalia, cello, and Jura, piano). Song of the Birds by Pablo Casals became famous after 1939 when, in self-imposed exile in protest against Franco’s dictatorship, the legendary cellist began his concerts with this traditional Catalonian carol. Originally for cello and organ, it exists in numerous transcriptions, including this one for piano trio, showcasing the siblings’ warm, well-controlled sound and solid intonation.

The performance of the Piano Trio no. 5 in D major, “Ghost” by Ludwig van Beethoven by the same ensemble left me with mixed emotions though. The tempo of the first movement was relentless, allowing few of the melodic exchanges between the parts to sound playful. As a result, while the individual themes were clearly articulated, the large form of this magnificent movement remained elusive. More importantly, there were disagreements regarding phrasing and some ensemble problems in the other two movements; nowhere as noticeably as in the four even numbered bars at the beginning of the slow movement, where the piano response always seemed to anticipate the last note of the previous bar’s string phrase just a bit too eagerly.

The Rondo Brilliante B minor is an unusually extroverted composition by Franz Schubert, an essentially introverted composer. Its technical virtuosity and subtle musical details were delivered with poignant ease by the young concertmaster of the resident Hamburg Symphonic Orchestra, Adrian Iliescu, and another Argerich-mentored pianist, Dong Hyek Lim.

Dorothea Röschmann
© Hamburg Symphony Orchestra

Robert Schumann’s song cycle, Frauenliebe und -leben came next in a near-perfect performance, with Dorothea Röschmann’s finely shaped voice supported by Elena Bashkirova’s sensitive piano playing. The soprano’s diction of the eight poems by Adelbert von Chamisso was as impeccable as her phrasing of the lines, with just the right amount of vibrato embellishing her notes. Some more contrast between the various phases in a young woman’s life would have made her expression even more colourful; to my taste, the emotions of the lyrical first song (Seit ich ihn gesehen) could have moved with more urgency to the fervent passion of the second (Er, der Herrlichste von allen) and the change from minor to major key between the next two songs could have expressed the immense joy of being engaged with more excitement. Nonetheless, the ultimate pain of the relationship (her husband’s death) in the last song was expressed with anguish by Röschmann, driven home with Bashkirova’s heartfelt epilogue, as the solo piano part returned – with a very different meaning – to the opening song’s material.

Renaud Capuçon
© Hamburg Symphony Orchestra

Finally, Martha Argerich herself stepped onto the podium with Renaud Capuçon to perform Beethoven’s Violin Sonata no. 8 in G major, Op.30 no.3, a work the two of them performed together in the very same hall almost exactly a year ago – then, to a virtual audience. The clarity and humble confidence of this octogenarian artist’s playing is still as astonishing as it was decades ago. With Capuçon, Argerich formed a brilliant pairing to dazzle with this distinctly odd sonata, in which the middle movement – sounding much slower than its traditional Tempo di Minuetto indicates – is as long as the book-ending other two movements together. The wordless dialogue in this movement, with its gentle tempo changes and intimate, often nostalgic conversation between violin and piano made the evening truly memorable.


This performance was reviewed from the Paramax Films video stream