The event was put on by fellow Argentine pianist Alberto Portugheis, who was curating a week of events to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Argentina’s independence. The line-up was eccentric to say the least: pianists Julian Jacobson, Eduardo Hubert, Katalin Csillagh and Anda Anastasescu, There was also the appearance of a rather fine cellist, Sagi Hartov, the Lebanese flautist Wissam Boustany and a less impressive violinist, Geoffrey Silver, whose CV would suggest this was his first public appearance since leaving the NYO two decades ago.
So, did it work? I’ve probably heard enough Argentine music to last me for the next 200 years, but some of it was worth hearing. Piazzolla never disappoints, and Ginastera’s Pampeana No. 2 for cello and piano is a fascinating meditation, beautifully performed.
We could probably have lived without Gianneo’s vioilin pieces but Silvestri’s Romanian Folk Dances Op.16 should be played more often (confused? There was a strong Romanian streak in the programming and performers as Alberto Portugheis’s ancestral roots are Romanian). The whole night had the atmosphere of a thrown-together salon or an end-of-term school concert where everyone needs a turn of the limelight.
Then the moment came. We waited with baited breath for the screen to come down, but here was Alberto announcing her from the stage. A pause. The door opens and on she swept in the highest black heels, porcelain white skin, long thick hair now a dignified grey. She was to play Milhaud’s Scaramouche with Portugheis, and the minute her hands touched the keyboard it was as if a bolt of electricity shot through the hall. Portugheis’s playing, impressive as it is, was no match for her – anyone would probably have suddenly sounded unfocused and out of control.
Argrich brought her inimitably explosive quality to the secondo part – and her irresistibly sly amusement. Her only other appearance was at the end of the concert when she joined first the fine pianist-composer Eduardo Hubert and then three pianists for Piazzolla’s La Muerte del Angèl. Couldn’t she have tossed us one encore, the tiniest solo? The fervent prayers of the audience hung like incense in the air. No, she was having none of it. She was there to support a loyal friend, not for money, not for media attention, not for critical acclaim. She couldn’t give a stuff what anyone else thought. And bravo to Kings Place for being the only London venue able to deal with the event on its own terms, and not make any big deal of it. It was a humbling lesson in simple humanity from one of the greatest musicians of our time.