International Piano

This Divine Art CD from Goldstone and Clemmow – with music for two pianos, piano duo and solo turns from each of them – consists entirely of first recordings, the most important of them being the opening Prelude, Hymn and Toccata by Kenneth Leighton, written in 1987, only a year before his early death. It’s a thrillingly rigorous work, the fierce Prelude, glittering with dissonance, presenting Leighton’s utterly idiomatic approach to two-piano writing before the temperature cools to admit the Hymn – which turns out to be ‘Abide with Me’, very thoroughly disguised – which grows in intensity to a rugged climax peppered with luminous chords, where both harmony and rhythm recall Messiaen; it then sinks into a chorale which manages to be severe and beautiful at the same time. Anthony Goldstone’s perceptive and detailed notes liken the underlying rhythm of the Toccata to that of ‘a supercharged rumba’ and it whirls towards an exhilarating conclusion.

Holst’s two-piano version of the 1915 Japanese Suite is one of several orchestral works surviving in manuscript two-piano recastings in the Royal College of Music: others include Hammersmith, The Perfect Fool and the Fugal Overture. It’s very lovely indeed, based on melodies whistled to Holst by the Japanese dancer who commissioned the score – all wistful pentatonic decorum until the closing ‘Dance of the Fox’ briefly whips up the temperature.

I’m afraid I can’t generate much enthusiasm for the three Anthony Hedges works here, all for solo piano: they are all fluently written, often with a pleasing rhythmic bite and brittle humour. But there seems to be little going on beneath the surface and, without some kind of harmonic fingerprint, to my ear Hedges fails to establish an individual voice despite the occasional excitement.

It’s a pity that, with barely six minutes on McLachlan’s new recital disc, Ronald Stevenson should be represented here, too, only by his brief Two Chinese Folk-Songs – after all, he has a number of substantial two-piano works in his catalogue. But even in these tiny arrangements he manages to leave his mark, treating them as studies in canon, giving the first, ‘A Song for New Year’s Day’ just a hint of Scotland and – a lovely touch, this – equipping the ‘Song of the Crab-Fisher’ with a crab-canon.

Outstanding performances from Goldstone and Clemmow: nothing catches out rhythmic imprecision like two pianos and they are right on the button every time; excellent recorded sound, too.

—Martin Anderson