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Martha Argerich and friends: Live From Lugano 2012

MARTHA ARGERICH AND FRIENDS: Live From Lugano 2012

(EMI)

American devotees of Martha Argerich have learned to love the summer. The legendary Argentine pianist graces our shores all too infrequently these days, but since 2004, EMI has regularly released a generous selection of live recordings from the Progetto Martha Argerich, Argerich’s summer music festival in Lugano, Italy. With Argerich presiding, the roster includes established stars as well as less familiar names. An important disclaimer is that Argerich herself does not play in every work on the program, but her presence clearly inspires her colleagues even when she isn’t at the keyboard.

Take the Dvorák Piano Quartet in E-flat, Op. 87. As played here — superbly — by a mostly unheralded cast, this somewhat infrequently programmed quartet sounds every bit the equal of more popular Dvorák chamber music.

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There is more obscure fare. Have you heard of (let alone heard) the Mahler Piano Quartet? You’ll hear it on this set, and while a student work, it is indeed worth hearing, especially in this reference-level performance. Try out, as well, the terrific Theme and Variations for two pianos by one Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909), the stunning Piano Quintet by Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951), or even an atmospheric three-piano transcription of Debussy’s orchestral masterpiece, La Mer.

But best of all, finally, is Argerich herself, at home in more familiar repertoire. She offers pristine yet spitfire Mozart (the Piano Concerto No. 25, K. 503), warmly virtuosic Brahms (the Haydn Variations for two pianos, with Nicholas Angelich), and driving, vital Prokofiev (the Second Violin Sonata, with Renaud Capuçon). The crown jewel of this year’s program, however, is a miraculous traversal of the Mozart Sonata in D, K. 381, for piano four hands, in which Argerich is joined by the reclusive Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires. Marrying Argerich’s impetuous energy with Pires’s cultured refinement, this is the best performance you will ever hear of a minor Mozart masterpiece.

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With nearly four hours of playing time and a sticker price of $11.99 on iTunes, the Lugano set is a bargain, to boot. Don’t hold back: Join Argerich and friends for summer music-making of rare electricity, sympathy, and finesse.

SETH HERBST

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