Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow are a well-known British piano duo formed in 1984. One of their specialities is to unearth little-known works that merit popularity; practically all their CDs include world premiere recordings. The present disc is dedicated to the two-piano music of Fryderyk Chopin. The composer himself did not leave much for the medium, and so the pianists have added Chopin-based works by other composers including Anthony Goldstone himself. The centerpiece is the two-piano transcription of the Second Piano Concerto . The remaining tracks are either paraphrases based by others on Chopin’s famous works, or his juvenile compositions, written in Poland before or around the time he created the two concertos.
Chopin’s First Piano Concerto has a more direct appeal and is the more popular of the two, but it’s the Second which is the charmer. Where the First shouts, the Second sings; where the First is dramatic, the Second is poetic. The role of the orchestra is a pure supporting one, and practically all the beauties are delivered by the piano. Thus a two-piano version of it loses little – less than it would in the case of the First. In this recording there are no role shifts: one instrument retains the solo piano part of the Concerto, while the second does the orchestra’s job. The performers based their version on Chopin’s autograph before it was edited, and by doing so they discovered a few minor deviations from the commonly known version. This creates an additional point of interest.
One of the drawbacks of replacing an orchestral accompaniment with a piano one is that instead of the flowing string background it’s now all chords, chords, chords: the piano version exposes the beat. This happens in the first movement of the Concerto, but not too much and not too pronounced. Also, the tutti do not have the overwhelming effect of the orchestral version; they might have been made fuller. Apart from these two points, the performance has excellent energy; the piano part is played with tempestuous drive and full Romantic voice. All the fountains sparkle and the grand cascades fall. The music has weight and depth though the piano sound is dry and a bit percussive. The tempo is on the fast side, so the beginning sounds like a march, which may raise a few eyebrows. The powerful aspect of this music is presented well – the lyrical less so. The appeal of this movement lies much in the alternation and combination of these facets, so there is room for improvement.
The slow movement starts as a flowing song of the soloist, only rarely commented upon by the oohs and aahs of the orchestral part. The pianists express well the music’s yellow glimmer, though I wish there was more sfumato : this reading resembles a photograph made with too sharp a contrast setting. The middle episode brings unease and tension, and the performance is intense with a feeling of agitated yearning. The finale is one of Chopin’s valses brillantes . The performance is posh and polished – in one word, Polish. It sounds natural and effortless, very dance-like, yet with a certain aristocratic haughtiness.
The C-major Rondo is inspired; its theme and episodes are memorable and brilliant in the most Chopinesque manner. The refrain is tender and lyrical, while the inserted episodes have more bravura. This provides enough contrast for a very enjoyable ten minutes worth of listening.
The Rossini Variations for flute and piano were composed when Chopin was 14, and were arranged for two pianos by Goldstone. This is a small, well-written exercise in classical variations, with a standard structure and a standard sequence of character changes. While not too daring, the music is pretty and enjoyable, and sounds as if it had been penned by Hummel or Weber.
Valse-Paraphrase was assembled with love and skill and shows Eduard Schütt as a master of the paraphrase. It is a masked ball of styles, where every new page presents a new surprise, from echoes of Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto to a cousin of Monti’s Czardas . The three main themes of Chopin’s waltz are sufficiently diverse to provide material for rich and expressive variations. The performance is sensitive, light and airy, with half-toning and good phrasing. This is a very “tasty” piece.
Next comes Frederick Corder’s arrangement of the “Minute” Waltz for two pianos, faithful yet far from plain. It has exciting moments, and is performed with grace and élan. The tempo and the dynamics are alive, and the entire piece breathes naturally.
The E-flat Nocturne , arranged by Ottilie Sutro, is a disappointment. The sweet, fragrant Nocturne has turned into a stomping, hurdy-gurdy-like oom-pah-pah, and loses all its nocturnal quality. Such change of character may be deliberate, but this music ends up sounding plain and square, like an exercise for beginners.
Chopin’s F minor Étude passed first through the hands of Brahms, who rebuilt it his way, and then through Goldstone’s, who arranged it for two pianos. Somewhere on the road it lost the free flight feeling with which it was born although undeniably it has taken on more of the character of a waltz.
Variations on a National Air by Moore were written for four hands, and one page of each part was lost. For this recording, a completion was made by Goldstone. This is an inventive and well-wrought set of variations based on a Venetian song. The nationality of the theme cannot be mistaken. The variations are diverse and interesting, ranging from a tender barcarolle to a vigorous march, and are clearly more advanced than those in the Rossini set. The performance is playful and shows good humour.
The programme ends with a musical joke. It is a potpourri written by Goldstone and dubbed “ Revolutionary Raindrop Rag ”, though it contains more than just the “Revolutionary” Étude and the “Raindrop” Prelude; not all of it is by Chopin. Consider it as a humorous encore to a concert. The pieces of the mosaic are connected more in a contrasting way than a natural way, and are joined under the umbrella of ragtime; not something one usually associates with the name of Chopin. It promises more than it delivers. Although I don’t say that everyone should grab this piece and start performing it, it works fine as an encore. If you don’t like it, or are not in the mood, you can always press “Stop” right just before it starts.
The recording is very clear. The rendition of the concerto is definitely very stimulating. As for the rest, the bravura pieces fare best, while the more lyrical ones are somewhat “bravurized”. The liner-note is by Goldstone and is excellent, answering practically every question one may wish to ask. Overall, this is an interesting disc for those who like to explore the unknown, and to see the known from new points of view.
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