Feisty performance from veteran pianist

Veteran pianist Martha Argerich's playing shows little sign of slowing down as she heads towards her 80th year.
Veteran pianist Martha Argerich's playing shows little sign of slowing down as she heads towards her 80th year.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/MARTHA ARGERICH



Martha Argerich (piano), Dario Alejandro Ntaca (conductor/piano), Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Esplanade Concert Hall


The Silver Jubilee of the Singapore International Piano Festival culminated with the most anticipated and unusual concert.

This was a piano festival concert with orchestra, conducted by a pianist and featuring a second pianist - Martha Argerich in her concerto debut in Singapore.

She was partnered by Argentine pianist/conductor Dario Alejandro Ntaca, musical director of the Sinfonietta Argerich in Argentina, a group he founded in 2004.

The Leonore Overture No. 3 by Beethoven began tentatively, with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) sounding less secure than usual. A quick scan of the musicians on stage revealed a fair percentage of guest players and unfamiliar section leaders.

Ntaca directed a competent performance, but one that hardly captured the essence of one of Beethoven's most dramatic overtures, which chronicles the imprisonment, release and jubilant liberation of Florestan in the opera Fidelio.

The lack of sparkle was also evident in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 17, which Ntaca directed from the keyboard.

His orchestral direction and performance was so temperate and even-keeled that listeners might have assumed that Mozart gave instructions to perform the concerto with minimal variation in dynamics and expression.

A leisurely third movement added to the feeling that he was marking time for Argerich's concerto in the second half.

Her entrance was greeted with such enthusiasm that one could be forgiven for thinking that she had already completed a stunning performance.

The sentiment was infectious, as Ntaca's direction and the SSO's playing, of Prokofiev's Piano Concert No. 3, were suddenly transformed.

Argerich never errs on the side of caution and her performance was as energetic and committed as one would have expected in her earlier days.

She took a brisk tempo that did not flag throughout the opening movement. It was Ntaca and the orchestra who were occasionally caught out by her nimbleness.

The second movement consists of a quaint theme, first introduced by the orchestral winds, and five highly contrasting variations. While the music demands much pianistic virtuosity, it was Argerich's ability to provide unique character to each variation that was spellbinding.

This was much more than a display of her effortless technique.

There was good banter between soloist and orchestra throughout the final movement. At this point, the SSO was in full flow.

As the intensity grew towards the finale, the musicians gamely matched Argerich's successive waves of runs and slides, right up to the triumphant ending, which was greeted with a roar of approval.

Argerich obliged to calls for encore with Scarlatti's Sonata In D Minor, K.141, which echoed the percussiveness that pervades the Prokofiev concerto.

This was followed by La Soiree Dans Grenade (Evening in Grenada) from Estampes by Debussy, to which she lent her unique Latin American lilt.

Her playing shows little sign of slowing down as she heads towards her 80th year.

But it was not just her pianistic ability that shone. It was her deep musicality the impeccable timing and the sincerity in performance that left a lasting impression.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2018, with the headline 'Feisty performance from veteran pianist'. Print Edition | Subscribe