Martha Argerich / Seiji Ozawa / Mito Chamber Orchestra

Beethoven: Symphony 1; Piano Concerto 1

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This live recording is being billed as a kind of youth-in-old-age romp from the 76-year-old Martha Argerich and the 82-year-old Seiji Ozawa. And so it is. In the Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major of Beethoven, Op. 15, Argerich, despite talk that she is slowing down, is fully her playful self, and a bit of sampling anywhere that soloist and orchestra are both active should convince you of the joy that comes from hearing a soloist and conductor who have done this often enough to have a sixth sense of what's coming from the other, and to act on that knowledge on the fly. This is an unusually strong performance of this concerto, actually Beethoven's second, that catches its brashness and its sense of breaking the mold at every turn. But there's an even better aspect to the album: it's one of just a few documents recording the collaboration between Ozawa and Japan's Mito Chamber Orchestra, an organization he helped found, for which he recruited the musicians, and which he has continued to conduct even as his high-flying international career has continued. The group does not have the pristine sound one may associate with Japanese groups, and that may be all to the good: it is brisk, fresh, and, in Ozawa's hands, a bit brusque. It also has a fabulous sense of ensemble in the Beethoven Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21, which you may find even more compelling than the concerto: the tension in the opening movement from the very first unexpected subdominant harmony reflects the implications of that opening better than other recordings out there. A real find, and a little landmark in Japanese music-making.

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