Here are two of the great living superstars of classical piano completely living up to their transcendent reputations in performance together. Add to this live recording of their magnificent two-piano event from Berlin in April some priceless biographical information: that in 1949, a 7-year-old Daniel Barenboim and an 8-year-old Martha Argerich began their lives as piano prodigies in Buenos Aires.
“We sight-read and played with whoever was in town” Barenboim said. “We were two little wunderkinder” Argerich said. “We played children’s games under the table. I used to hide but he would find me.”
Here, then, from 60 years later is a virtuoso piano reunion to end virtuoso piano reunions – four-handed music by Mozart, Schubert and Stravinsky, played by a duo that hadn’t concertized together since the 1980s. Some were played on two pianos (Mozart, Stravinsky), Schubert was played by four hands on one piano.
Works performed are Mozart’s D-major sonata for two pianos K.448, Schubert’s Variations on an Original Theme in A-Flat major D. 813 and Stravinsky’s own arrangement for two pianists of “Le Sacre Du Printemps.”
All of which is performed on the kind of level that gives virtuosity a good name, no matter what peevish puritanism one might bring to the conversation. The piece that may well make this disc an enduring classic in two-piano performance is their searing pyrotechnic performance of Stravinsky’s two-piano arrangement of his “Le Sacre du Printemps.”
The composer once, famously, played it privately with Claude Debussy at the other piano. In this performance, the often astounding Argerich is playing the piece for the first time.
The result, incredibly then, is a level of performance which Barenboim claims left him “flabbergasted.”
You can take that and pass it around. I doubt strongly we’ll ever again hear the likes of this performance of Stravinsky’s two-piano version of “Le Sacre” in our time.
One of the year’s great classical discs. (Jeff Simon)