Martha Argerich is an amazing piano virtuoso – you can read her biography at last.fm for some basic details. Her debut recital, performed at age 24 (!) in 1960 includes a performance of Chopin’s Scherzo No. 3 that is legendary. I bought the Deutsche Grammophon CD of that recital a day or two ago and haven’t been disappointed. In fact, I’m busy trying to get the Brahms Rhapsody Op. 79 No. 2 in shape (this is coming along very slowly); there’s no way I can match her virtuosity or intensity, but I wish I had heard her recording when I first played this piece in high school. Her dramatic pauses and feel for the tension that makes seemingly repetitive passages on paper sing may be unmatched.
And that’s the earliest stuff of hers, I think: the Fantasiestucke recordings sing clearly and wistfully, and I regularly listen to the Bach Toccata BWV 911 to remember just what a long way I have to go in understanding Bach’s voicing. One of her teachers, Friedrich Gulda, is not to be missed – if you’ve never understood what the big deal about Mozart is, give this a viewing and crank up the volume. A lot of people make Mozart dainty and too playful: Gulda brings the energy that gets everyone – even the musicians – into it.