These two concertos, Rachmaninoff’s 3rd and Tchaikovsky’s 1st, were recorded in concert about 30 years ago. Martha Argerich is a pianist of astonishing virtuosity. Born in Buenos Aires, Ms Argerich has kept a low profile letting her artistry speak for itself.

Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto is best known for its great technical difficulties. Originally dedicated to Josef Hoffman (who declined to play it) it received its premiere in New York with the composer as soloist with Walter Damrosch conducting. Its second performance also in New York again with the composer as soloist was under the direction of Gustav Mahler. One can only imagine what that must have been like.

The first recording of the work was made by Vladimir Horowitz. When Rachmaninoff heard Horowitz play the concerto he said, “He swallowed it whole.” One could say the same about Argerich’s reading of this score. The technical difficulties of the piece present no challenge to her but she also realizes the lyrical parts of the piece. She takes the piece at an electrifying pace while still maintaining clarity. She doesn’t merely swallow it whole, she inhales it. There are some wrong notes, but the overall excitement mitigates them.

This is a concerto that I’ve never much cared for other than as a vehicle for virtuosity.  I think that Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Concerto is deservedly more popular as it’s a better composition. Regardless, Argerich makes as good a case for the 3rd as is possible. Here’s the cadenza from the 1st movement. Remember this was recorded in performance not in a studio. Argerich cadenza

The Tchaikovsky is just as revelatory as the Rachmaninoff and has the added benefit of being a much better work of art. Of course, everybody records it and most listeners likely have several versions of it. But Argerich is such a great artist that you’ll’ want this if you don’t already have it. Ricardo Chailly conducts the Rachmaninoff, Kyril Kondrashin the Tchaikovsky.