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REVIEW: Martha Argerich at Manchester International Festival

15 July 2013

© Adriano Heitman

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Martha Argerich
Manchester International Festival
, 12 July

A few heart-stopping moments of silence preceded Martha Argerich’s entrance onto the stage at the Manchester International Festival. The legendary Argentinian pianist – who in recent years has become as famous for cancelling concerts at the last minute as for her dazzling and unfading artistry – had already made a last-minute change to the programme, opting to play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 1 instead of the billed Shostakovich concerto for piano and trumpet.

But eventually she appeared from the wings, to the relief and delight of an audience eagerly anticipating her first appearance in Manchester for more than 50 years. Argerich had been invited to play with Manchester Camerata, as part of the Manchester International Festival, because of her reportedly close relationship with the chamber orchestra’s new principal conductor, Gábor Takács-Nagy.

Argerich’s Beethoven was tender and contemplative, eschewing the tense, edge-of-seat approach taken by some interpreters; but there was certainly no lack of attack in her performance. Now 72 years old, Argerich has lost none of the clarity of touch and that has earned her such a dedicated and adoring cohort of fans. Those fans rose to their feet at the conclusion of the concerto, rewarding her with a standing ovation and the kind of applause more typically reserved for a rock star.

And there was more to come: with the cheers still ringing out across the auditorium, Argerich suddenly sat back down at the piano and launched into a rare encore. Her account of Traumes Wirren from the Schumann Fantasiestücke Op 12 sizzled and danced, its fiendish runs dispatched with stunning accuracy and a rapt sense of playfulness.

Argerich’s appearance was preceded by a spirited performance of Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste, and followed by Arvo Pärt’s haunting Lamentate. Both of these pieces featured another pianist, 27-year-old Frenchman David Kadouch. The Pärt in particular revealed a deeply sensitive musical intellect, with Kadouch providing many of the highlights of an arrestingly beautiful performance.

Manchester International Festival runs until 21 July

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