There was only one concert during the 12-day festival celebrating the 80th birthday of Martha Argerich where she remained on the stage of the Laeiszhalle for the whole evening. Although taking place at the beginning of the festival about two weeks ago, it was only made available in streaming format in the last few days. The uniqueness of this occasion was further heightened by it marking the first time Argerich had performed with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter.

Anne-Sophie Mutter, Mischa Maisky and Martha Argerich
© Daniel Dittus

The concert began with Misha Maisky, Argerich's veteran chamber music partner, joining her in Beethoven’s 7 Variations on a Theme by Mozart in E flat major, WoO 46, for cello and piano. It came as little surprise that Maisky performed this lovely work with a fundamentally Romantic view. It was perhaps due to this approach that his customary velvety tone was dominated by an overgrown vibrato, and fast passages sounding more virtuosic than impish. Generally, Argerich followed the score’s markings more closely, for example in the third variation where, when repeating the cello melody, she chose a subtly lyrical character. In the fifth variation, her crisp, precise touch resulted is short, clipped last notes of the phrases (as printed), markedly different from the long, emphasised notes in the equivalent cello part. In the Adagio, the sixth variation, the pondering, almost meditative interpretation of the piano theme brought some of the most intimate moments of the concert.

Mutter has performed the Violin Sonata in A major by César Franck many times and her opening melody usually has a tentative voice – only to increase in volume and character later. Here, however, in this gloriously lilting theme, her bow seemed to make less than usual contact with the string, making me wonder if this was a daring interpretation or was it remotely possible that this artist was nervous? By the second movement, however, Mutter was in full flight with her legendary powerful attitude, technically perfect, with her loud dynamics losing their shine from too strong a tone only on occasion.

Argerich remains one of the musical miracles of our times. Like exquisite wine, she seems to gain depth and new qualities with maturity. Artistic wisdom permeates her playing like the sun shines through leaves on an autumn afternoon. Apart from total control of her instrument, she constantly communicates new musical ideas both to her partner and to her audience. In the best sense of the term, she reminded me of a jazz pianist, as if effortlessly improvising her extremely difficult part, as if interpreting every phrase for the first time, appearing to be bemused with their beauty.

Finally, all three artists contributed to the success of the Piano Trio no. 1 in D minor by Felix Mendelssohn, with a robust performance. There was not an out of tune or dropped note in sight and the ensemble was near-perfect, even if the two string players never seemed to catch one another’s eyes. Nor did the direction of their bowings agree all the time, but it mattered little with Maisky’s sonorous cello theme beginning and Mutter’s always heroic tone conquering the first movement. Primus inter pares was the pianist who, with her nimble, yet steely fingers, mastered the final tempo increase of this movement without the slightest sign of exhaustion. The whimsical atmosphere of the Scherzo was fully convincing; yet fast tempi notwithstanding, Argerich’s natural rubato was as constant as her visual and audial attention to her partners. The ovation at the conclusion of the concert was longstanding and clearly personal.

This performance was reviewed from the Paramax Films video stream