This recital of pieces for four hands contains some music I had never heard before, including the opening three fine pieces from Ze Šumavy ‘From the Bohemian Forest’ by Dvořák. The first of these is colourful and rhythmical and the second, By the Black Lake is quite an extensive, large-scale piece. It is expressively played by our pianists who build the work to a fine climax. No 6 is given next and this is the final piece of the collection. I really enjoyed hearing these works and they make a nice change from the Slavonic Dances, which is what we normally hear when Dvořák’s music is included in four-handed piano recitals.
The Dvořák is followed by a more familiar work, Schubert’s substantial Rondo in A, D951. This is attractively played by Duo Bohêmes. There is great attention to detail and every note is carefully placed in the texture. The pedalling is sparing, allowing for great clarity but there is little feeling of the warmth I generally associate with Schubert performance. I would like to hear a greater dynamic range, but this is a fine performance, nevertheless. Considerably quicker and more flowing are Imre Rohmann and András Schiff on Hungaroton. They make greater contrasts between the louds and softs with rather more effective rubato, and they build great tension when appropriate. I like the strong and rhythmic attack in the next piece, Schubert’s Allegro in a minor, D947. Duo Bohêmes are well up for the virtuosic challenges presented here and they give a very exciting performance. Good though this is, Alfred Brendel and Evelyne Crochet on Vox give a much more impassioned and characterful performance with a wider variety of tone, colour, dynamics and articulation. I prefer Brendel and Crochet’s approach to the song-like, lyrical passages. Masterly! This is how Schubert should be played.
Though best known in orchestral form, Ravel’s Ma Mère L’oye, was originally conceived as a piano duet. My first feeling on hearing the opening Pavane was that the recording seemed a little dry and the performance a bit matter-of-fact. However, Petit Poucet is beautifully phrased even in the opening and closing accompanying passages. In No 3, I felt that the accompaniment was a little too loud but as in No 4 the players give fairly characterful accounts with good build-up to the climaxes. The final piece, Le jardin féerique is well-played with great clarity, I have a preference for a rather more romantic approach, which I feel would sometimes be more appropriate in this music. The performance by Duo Bohêmes seems a little soulless to me. Martha Argerich’s recording captures the atmosphere of a superb live performance and great occasion and it is well-worth hearing, but for me at least, it is too idiosyncratic for repeated hearings. Louis Lortie and Hélène Mercier on Chandos are so much more expressive than Duo Bohêmes, with excellent balance between the two pianists, great imagination in tone colouring, and they capture the mood very successfully in every piece in this work. This is the one to go for!
The real interest on this disc for me is the piece by John Pitts entitled Raag Gezellig. According to the well-written and informative programme notes, the piece draws heavily on the classical sitar raag tradition of Pakistan. It begins quietly and atmospherically in the depths of the piano. These gentle murmurings soon become ominous and the first pianist joins in with melodic fragments which become gradually more aggressive, not to mention highly virtuosic and improvised-sounding. Soon we hear some extensive melodic lines at a faster pace. Some melodies are pre-composed, other sections are semi-improvised. It all builds to a grand and magnificent climax followed by a short, gentle and effective conclusion. I was made aware from the disc of Piano Music by John Pitts which I reviewed some time ago, that here is a composer who has something of real interest to say. All the pieces I have heard so far are really characterful and imaginative and Raag Gezellig is no exception.
The piece by John Pitts is well-worth investigating and it is brilliantly played here by Duo Bohêmes. Also the Dvořák pieces are particularly enjoyable. However, the rest of the music, though expertly played here has been oft-recorded, and I have mentioned my preferences for the Ravel and Schubert above.