Tuesday, December 19, 1999

Piano Is Key to These Violinists' CDs


**** SHOSTAKOVICH: Piano Trio
     No. 2 TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Trio;
Martha Argerich, piano;
Gidon Kremer, violin; Mischa Maisky, cello;
Deutsche Grammophon


     When last we checked in with Perlman and Kremer, the two greatest violinists of their generation (and arguably the two greatest violinists before the public today), they had released CDs of movie music. Kremer's was, typically, an extraordinarily interesting and exciting effort; unfortunately, Perlman's bland and relentlessly commercial disc with John Williams was all too typical of his disappointing work lately. But here, thanks to the ever-provocative Argerich, the playing field has become much more level. Both of these discs were recorded live last year.

     The trio program with Kremer documents an already legendary Japanese concert. The raw emotion of the Shostakovich has never been so deliberately exposed (the composer's own recording is tame in comparison); Tchaikovsky's usually agreeable Grand Trio spills forth with an unbelievably riveting torrent of electricity. Argerich is, as always, an extraordinary catalyst for musical reactions, and what she whips up with an inspired Kremer and Maisky simply has to be heard to be believed. This is one of the great chamber music recordings.

     Kremer and Maisky are, of course, famously flammable musicians who need only a spark to ignite. Perlman now seems to require a whole forest fire, but Argerich's incendiary powers are not to be underestimated. Her recital with Perlman took place in Saratoga, three months after the Tokyo trio concert, and this document of it reveals another monument in modern chamber music-making.

     Perlman's performance of the "Kreutzer" lacks the high voltage and arresting dramatic fervor Kremer and Argerich brought to the Beethoven sonata on their DG recording five years ago. But the playing is rich, beautifully proportioned and commanding. And the Franck sonata is magnificent; here the robust romanticism of Perlman's playing sets the standard for grand sweep. Argerich, on this occasion, proves nothing less than a wonder worker who has brought Perlman back from the interpretive dead.