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Hyperion Records

CDA66755 - Arensky: Suites for Two Pianos
CDA66755

Recording details: June 1994
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Paul Spicer
Engineered by Keith Warren
Release date: October 1994
DISCID: 430FDF16
Total duration: 67 minutes 29 seconds

'Deliciously played by this remarkable duo partnership who show virtuosity and delicacy in equal measure. Altogether delightful music and captivating playing' (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)

'Gabrilowitsch and Bauer have serious competition here. This is a splendid disc, chock full of charm and dash. Exceptionally fine—a must for all lovers of romantic ensemble pianism' (American Record Guide)

'Hyperion have again found the perfect acoustic for this most delightful and effective music. All in all, this is one of the classiest and most enjoyable two-piano discs I've ever had the pleasure of hearing' (Classic CD)

'Scintillating performances' (Fanfare, USA)

Suites for Two Pianos
Romance  [3'43]
Valse  [4'39]
Polonaise  [5'32]
Le Savant  [2'16]
La Coquette  [2'31]
Polochinelle  [3'11]
Le Rêveur  [3'36]
La Danseuse  [3'13]
Thème  [1'11]
Dialogue  [2'04]
Valse  [1'22]
Menuet  [1'41]
Gavotte  [3'12]
Scherzo  [3'44]
Marche funèbre  [4'00]
Nocturne  [3'10]
Polonaise  [3'17]
Prélude  [2'22]
Romance  [2'25]
Le Rêve  [5'10]
Finale  [3'00]
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
That Arensky is one of the most influential figures in the promotion of two-piano music cannot be doubted. In addition to his four Suites for two pianos he also composed two sets of pieces for piano duet, later arranging one of them, his Children’s Suite of eight canons, Op 65, also for two pianos.

Nowadays piano-duo concerts occur relatively frequently and are fully appreciated as part of the usual music-making environment. However, in Russia at the turn of the century this was hardly the case, despite the occasional foray into the piano-duo medium by Anton Rubenstein and a few others. Rosina Lhevinne remembered how novel performances on two pianos were in Russia when she recalled the birth of her own duo ensemble alongside her husband, the great Russian pianist Josef Lhevinne:

My entrance into the field of two-piano playing was quite by chance. In 1898, when Mr Lhevinne and I were married, eight days after my graduation from the Imperial Conservatory, I firmly decided not to attempt a career of my own. César Cui, the composer-general who knew my work, did not approve of the decision, and one day paid us a visit. He appeared in his glorious uniform—gray coat lined with scarlet, white gloves and a sword. The purpose of his visit was to ask us to take part in a charity concert of which he was the chairman. He requested we play a new suite by Anton Arensky, our harmony teacher. The next day after the concert, the newspapers gave as much space to the composition and the phenomenon of having two grand pianos on stage, as to our playing.

Arensky’s two-piano Suites are models of the romantic duo-piano literature and clearly generated considerable interest at the time. It cannot be coincidence that Rachmaninov’s first two-piano work, his Russian Rhapsody, was written whilst still a student of Arensky in Moscow or that his Fantasie, Op 5, for two pianos was completed only a year after Arensky’s Suite No 2; interestingly Rachmaninov asked the German-born pianist and composer Paul Pabst, the dedicatee of Arensky’s Suite and Professor of Piano at the Moscow Conservatory, to première the piece with him.

Like all the best examples of two-piano music, Arensky’s Suites make no compromises on the technical demands made of the performers, and balancing Arensky’s gossamer-like embellishments and elaborations can sometimes seem an almost impossible task in itself. Guy Maier and Lee Pattison, the American duo team who did so much to promote the two-piano medium worldwide between the two World Wars, came up against this problem themselves. Guy Maier writes:

My colleague and I were practising a passage of that favorite old war-horse, the Arensky Waltz, in which he had the tune, accompanied by my piano in soft scale passages. We repeated it several times—each time with my partner’s emphatic request that I play the embroidered passages softer. Evidently I failed miserably, for the air in the practice room soon became blue! His exasperation finally gave way to the sad realization that it was impossible for me to play pianissimo enough. But, since hope springs eternally, he patiently said, ‘Well, let’s try it just once more’. This was so successful that he burst out—‘There! That was perfect! Why can’t you always play it that way?’ Meekly (but triumphantly) I answered, ‘You see, I didn’t play my passage at all that time, I just “made believe” by playing on the tops of the keys!’ From which you will deduce that in two-piano playing it is always the other fellow who plays too loudly; often it is annoying if you can hear him at all.

Stephen Coombs © 1994

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