Of the four Suites for two pianos, only the Valse
from the First Suite is regularly played today. Yet there is a consistency of quality and freshness throughout all the Suites which in itself gives a fascinating summary of Arensky’s creative output. Suite No 1, Op 15, written in 1888, is characteristic of Arensky’s easy fluidity and craftsmanship. Both the Romance
and the Valse
have deceptively simple tunes, and yet Arensky succeeds in surprising and delighting the listener with his graceful arabesques and virtuosic embellishments which thoroughly reflect the glittering and elegant cultural background of Tsarist Russia. The last movement of this Suite is an evocation of the Polonaise which always opened Court Balls: not so much a dance here as a stately procession in which guests formed themselves into two lines, leaving an aisle down the middle of the ballroom through which the Emperor and his consort would promenade. As the cortège proceeded, officers and gentlemen would detach themselves one by one and, taking the hand of a lady, join the procession as it toured the room.
from notes by Stephen Coombs © 1994