15 Feb 2013

Argerich Plays Chopin’s Scherzo No.3 in C Sharp Minor, Opus 39

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Music Analysis:

This scherzo is the most dramatic of the four. It was dedicated to Adolf Gutmann because, according to Wilhelm von Lenz, only Adolf could play the chords in the bass, which cannot be spanned by any left hand (D# F# B D# F# in bar 6). Adolf was one of Chopin’s pupil who could apparently punch a hole in a table. It is also the most ironic and forcefully constructed of the four scherzos, with an almost Beethovenian majesty. The Schezro opens with two mysterious questions that are answered by two striking octaves that even seem uncompromising. The scherzo is built upon two sharply contrasting elements. The first theme in C sharp minor starts with a series of strong accents and thundering scales and follows by a fast and heroic march. As soon as the second theme appears in D flat major, the calmness and serenity wipe out the whole tension. These graceful and luminous passages consist of richly harmonized chorale phrases with shimmering waves of falling notes. It is said that these chorale phrases echo songs sometimes heard at the monastery in Valdemosa. The first theme then repeats, not less striking as when it first appears, but ends in a more shocking way that leads to the second theme, which is now in E major, not D flat major. The second theme follows using the same motif as the previous part, but the transition to the repetition in E minor calls for a sad memory that does not even exist before. After several quiet questions, a silent moment, several waves of sound, and falling octaves, the coda finally comes with a lot of agitation and turbulence. When the coda reaches the high E, a series of rolling waves runs up to a high G#, falls down to a daring stroke A in the bass, and concludes the work with brilliant masterstrokes in C#.

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Classical Net review of

For me, there are two kinds of Chopin players: Apollonian and Dionysian – those who aim at some ideal, unchanging interpretation and those who, like jazz players, allow themselves to ride the musical wave, to discover things while they play. Both players run risks. The Platonists can fall into stultification. The Bacchantes can become merely eccentric or the performance can simply break apart into chaos. The Platonist’s reward is a kind of “naturalness.” Perfect beauty seems to come from “just playing.” The Dionysian’s reward is ecstatic discovery. It forces the listener to “hear anew.” Argerich clearly belongs to the second group. That at so young an age she could bring off something so individual and so right amazes me. No wonder the Poles [at the Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1965] went nuts.

Nothing in the interpretation betrays the music. Still, the interpretation remains one-of-a-kind. Argerich chooses to emphasize the instability of the piece. The opening measures harmonically and rhythmically leave the listener up in the air. The confusion lasts only a moment, as she launches into the main strain. This unleashes a demonic energy, which runs smack into a chorale idea. This usually signals pianists to switch straight into their “nobilmente” gear. Yet, Argerich doesn’t take it straight, preferring to contrast the chords with a glittering arpeggio. Again, this destabilizes the texture, leading to (after the reappearance of the chorale idea) an inexorable rush to the end. What Argerich has done, in contrast to other pianists, is essentially extend the arch of the piece. Her command of dynamics and color here is superb.

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