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Martha Argerich, high point of Celebrity Series / The Boston Musical Intelligencer

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Undoubtedly Sunday afternoon will turn out to have been a high point of this year's Celebrity Series of Boston's roster of stars. Pianist extraordinaire Martha Argerich appeared on this series in 1982 and in 1989 (with Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Armin Jordan, music director). She had cancelled four times with the Boston Symphony , and was famously replaced by a very young Yuja Wang. Now on a U.S. tour that began last Friday in Carnegie Hall, Argerich is collaborating with the classy British-born, Sir Antonio Pappano, conductor of London's Covent Garden since 2002) and the Rome-based Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (since 2005). Appearing here for the first time since 1969, the ensemble was a real treat to hear, especially the winds and brass, but I imagine that what drew a full house to Symphony Hall was the rare chance to hear the legendary Argentinian-born Martha Argerich, renowned for her transcendental technique and musical genius, which leave most critics running out of superlatives. 

When Argerich came on stage, applause pent up for decades erupted. The concerto's opening clarinet solo began the best reading I have heard. The orchestra collaborated perfectly with this mercurial artist; in many instances it felt like exquisite chamber music. Argerich deployed shattering bass, tiger-like pouncing attacks, thundering chords, double octaves galore, and magically placed glissandi. She has the strength to cut through a large orchestra, and the pianissimo to create a hushed reverie. The second movement, sardonic and dry, which consists of a meditative theme and five variations, was particularly exquisite. After the thrilling third movement, riotous applause broke out. Three curtain calls later, Pappano and Argerich sat side by side and gave a charming four-hand performance of Ravel's "Laidronette, Empress of the Pagodas" from his Mother Goose Suite. Dazzling, high fun, it went by far the fastest I had ever heard it. The person next to me had tears in the eyes and her hand on her heart throughout the concerto. "Laidronette" simply made everyone smile. Argerich's transcendent pianism caused widespread goosebumps in a Prokofiev Third for the ages. 

READ THE FULL Boston Musical Intelligencer REVIEW