In the early 20th century, keyboard reductions were used as an inexpensive way to showcase new orchestral music. It was this reason that led Stravinsky to make the first piano arrangement of The Rite of Spring, which was quickly expanded to a duet version and premiered before the ballet proper by the composer and his pal, Claude Debussy.
On this record, another piano dream team—Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc-André Hamelin—opt for an arrangement for two pianos. The Canadian-Norwegian pairing is unusual in that the musicians are not labelmates (Andsnes records for Sony), making this appearance all the more coveted. The two-piano transcription is arguably as exhilarating as the full orchestration, and Andsnes and Hamelin offer a reading that is in turns thrilling, unsettling and beautiful. The duo has competition from a handful of new(ish) Rite piano recordings, notably Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim, who stand out thanks to their confident musicality (naturally), but also Alice Sara Ott and Francesco Tristano, whose wildness is enduring (both recordings 2014).
The complex, obstinate staccato melodies in Concerto for two pianos develops ideas introduced in the Rite. Here, Andsnes and Hamelin are masters of modernism; they coax a prism of colours from the instruments, all of which are captured in detail via the superior sound recording.
The disc closes with a trio of miniatures: Madrid is arranged for two pianos by Soulima Stravinsky, the composer’s son, and Tango and Circus Polka are reimagined for duo by pianist Victor Babin.