This disc is great
value, in terms of quality and quantity.
The well devised programme is designed
around the talents of the twin-sister
piano duo from Istanbul, Güher
and Süher Pekinel. Such is their
musical empathy, that the glamorous
pair play (we are told) back to back,
rather than either facing each other
or side by side as is more usual in
piano duos. Odd though this may sound,
it makes a great deal of musical sense,
and certainly there are no signs of
raggedness or uncertainty in their playing.
The ‘pop’ number here
is, of course, Camille Saint-Saëns’
wonderful ‘Grande Fantaisie Zoologique’,
The Carnival of the Animals, and it
is given a splendid and far from routine
performance. Some listeners, used to
more pantomime, may find it a little
po-faced – Pianists, for example
(track 11) is played very straight –
but my feeling is that if musical jokes
are any good, they don’t need to be
shoved down the listener’s throat by
being turned into cheap slapstick. A
little Gallic ‘cool’ is welcome here.
More seriously, some
of the tempi are very quick, which is
bracing, yet occasionally gives the
detail of the music less time to make
its impression. On the other hand, the
performance of The Swan by cellist
Éric Levionnais is the most beautiful
I have heard – deeply expressive yet
subtly understated. It is no disrespect
to the other performers to say that
this track is on a higher level even
than the rest of this accomplished disc.
In sum, I enjoyed this ‘Carnival’ for
purely musical reasons far more than
I am used to doing.
There follows one of
the great masterpieces for piano duet,
the Poulenc D minor Concerto of 1932
- though for me this disc would have
worked better if the Poulenc had been
placed at the end. Again, the tempi
are extremely quick in the opening movement
and the finale. But the twins play with
tremendous gusto and panache, and all
the notes are firmly in place, while
Janowski and his orchestra are well
up to the challenge. This is a glistening
rather than a thoughtful performance
of this quite enigmatic piece. Yet the
slow music is projected with great clarity,
with the result that the remarkable
textures, featuring such rarities as
double bass harmonics and the bottom
notes of the piccolo, come over superbly.
There now follow three
works for piano duo without orchestra.
Manuel Infante’s music was new to me,
but these ’Andalusian Dances’ are great
fun, and are characterised sharply by
the Pekinel sisters. The disc is completed
by two Ravel masterpieces, both better
known in their orchestral garb. The
first, Rapsodie Espagnole, is in four
movements, of which only the third (Habanera)
was originally composed for two pianos.
The rest were transcribed some years
later, yet sound utterly convincing.
Ravel had such a genius for texture
and sonority that there is no possibility
of these, and La Valse that follows,
being anything other than total recreations
of the works in question. The Pekinels
are at their very best here, whether
in the mysterious opening Prélude
à la nuit of Rapsodie espagnole,
or in the wild, panic-stricken closing
pages of La Valse.
This is a fine CD;
the recording for the two pianos alone
is just a little boxy, though not enough
to be a serious problem. That of the
works with orchestra is first-class.