The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (285): This disc just won’t leave my deck

Any day I don’t know what to play, I put on Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony played by Martha Argerich.

Yes, you read that right.

The veteran pianist plays the symphony four-hand with Theodosia Ntokou (new to me).

It’s like nothing you’ve ever heard.

The most musical account of the Pastoral since…. Bruno Walter, maybe.

I’m starting to imagine it can beat Covid.

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  • Delicious. One sometimes forgets that 2- and 1- piano versions of the orchestral repertoire were commonly used before recorded and broadcast sound hit the world. It was the way to familiarise oneself with the music. It’s possible to read an orchestral score in the mind, no instrument, if one has the ability, but playing it is much more fun. Piano versions occasionally reveal what may lie hidden in an orchestration.

    In my lifetime I have always had access to recorded and broadcast music, and concert halls easily accessible; but I will never forget playing several of the Beethoven symphonies in 4-hand/1-piano version with my father, albeit not up to this lovely standard. Much of 18C and 19C music was available in this format – happy days playing Bach’s Orchestral Suites and the Brandenburg Concertos (arr.Reger!)

    And then, there have been the brilliant piano arrangements of music by Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky and others, sometimes by the composers themselves. ( We go in reverse when it comes to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition! ) The Rite of Spring first took to the airwaves from the piano, in Monte Carlo, for Diaghilev’s opinion. It is performed in the piano/pianos versions nowadays.
    Forgive this reminiscence, and, knowing how harsh some comments can be on N.L.’s Slipped Disc, please don’t be too critical if I have erred on the fact.

    Slipped Disc drops something interesting to us every day.

  • Why would anyone want to cast away the wonderful orchestrations of Beethoven to hear someone just bang on keys is a mystery I can not ken.

    • I can not ken it either. But it is not either or. A transcription, especially one that is played as beautifully as this one, is a perfectly valid alternative way to experience this work. Your reference to “bang on keys” suggests that you didn’t even listen to it.

    • Right, because Argerich is such an unmusical key-banger with no sense of tone color and no sensitivity to voicing or texture. She couldn’t possibly have anything interesting to offer about this piece.

      Also, you are totally right that anyone who listens to this version is casting away the wonderful orchestrations of Beethoven. Outer darkness, gnashing of teeth, etc. It is abomination!

      /eyeroll

  • I’ll give it a try, but I have long loved Cyprien Katsaris’ complete cycle of the nine symphonies in Liszt’s solo transcriptions. I believe they are still available on Teldec.

    I don’t know who the actual pianists are, but in James Lapine’s delicious 1991 film “Impromptu” there is a wonderful scene in which Liszt (Julian Sands) and Chopin (Hugh Grant) exchange places on the piano bench in mid-performance of the transcription of the “Pastoral”. This underrated film also features Judy Davis as George Sand, Mandy Patinkin as Alfred de Musset, and Emma Thompson and Bernadette Peters in supporting roles. Definitely worth seeking out!

    • Wonderful fun movie. Bernadette Peters (as Marie D’Agoult) has a wonderful time chewing the scenery, and Judy Davis is simply a marvel. Also, if I remember correctly, this was before Hugh Grant became Mr. RomCom (“4 Weddings & a Funeral,” “Notting Hill,” et al), so it’s fun to see him before he got pigeonholed.

  • Thanks to Norman’s posting of this, I just ordered a CD copy of it for the octogenarian pianist, conductor and Busoni scholar Daniell Revenaugh. E-Bay has copies of it with the cover shown above. The ones shown at Amazon are more expensive, and show a different and generic looking cover (go figure!). There are two connections here. Revenaugh was friendly with Ms. Argerich for a time (still is, as far as I know). She once used a clear plastic ‘lower lid’ that Mr. Revenaugh had invented, in one of her solo recitals – New York, I believe (not certain). The lid sits on the floor below the piano, and helps to project sound emanating from the lower half, out into the hall. While the idea didn’t fully catch on, several big name pianists used it and claimed to have liked the results. The other connection is that Mr. Revenaugh has always admired the Liszt version of the Beethoven “Pastoral” – rightfully so – and has worked on it over the years. Daniell Revenaugh is perhaps best known as having been the conductor on the world premiere recording of the Busoni Piano Concerto with John Ogdon and the Royal Philharmonic for EMI. That recording has never been ‘out of print’ until recently, although used copies can still be found. Hopefully Warner Classics will reissue it
    as it has rarely, if ever, been bettered.

  • I have been a life-long ardent admirer of Martha Argerich, and these ladies play magnificently well together. Unfortunately, despite their exquisitely shaded and sensitive performance, this two-piano version emphasizes how motivically insistent and repetitious this music can be without the timbral variety of Beethoven’s loving orchestration. It is a transcendently spiritual piece, but the limitations of the pianos’ expressive range and color do not do it justice, even in the very best of hands. Amazing, yes, but not a full-scaled realization of Beethoven’s creative powers.

  • Easier for her than the Fourth or Fifth Piano Concertos, which we must now suppose she will go to her grave without ever playing.

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