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  Founder: Len Mullenger
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Music for Two Pianos and Orchestra
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)

Concerto in D minor (1932) [19.05]
Nikolai BEREZOWSKY (1900-1953)

Fantasie (1931) [10.53]
Paul CRESTON (1906-1985)

Concerto Op.50 (1951) [23.44]
Joshua Pierce and Dorothy Jonas (duo-pianists)
National Symphony Orchestra of Polish Radio and Television
David Amos (conductor)
recorded in the Concert Hall of Polish Radio, Katowice, Poland in 2001
KLEOS CLASSICS KL 5121 [53.42]


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Music for two keyboards and orchestra can be found from Bach to Mozart, then the solo piano got into its own with Beethoven. Composers clearly felt its greater power of sound and the virtuosity increasingly demanded of performers was adequate to compete with a full orchestra, so they fall out of favour somewhat in the 19th century. Bruch produced one in 1915, which was a reworking of a suite for organ, but those origins in the Baroque era were not forgotten and produced a revival during the 20th century reflected in neo-classical works of Stravinsky and Bartók. The best contribution to the genre came in 1932 from Poulenc. It was a commission from the American heiress (to the Singer sewing machine fortune) who married into the French aristocracy to become Princess Edmond de Polignac, and an important patron of music in the 20th century. Poulenc and Jacques Février played the concerto for the first time at the Teatro la Fenice with the orchestra of La Scala, Milan on 3 September 1932, and later committed it to vinyl under Prêtre. It’s a beautiful work, full of Gallic wit and charm, with instantly recognisable chunks of Bach and Mozart (i.e. the start of each of the first two movements respectively), and the tasteful vulgarity of a nose-thumbing maverick. It’s given a racy performance on this disc, at times a shade too fast for comfort or detail, but the result is exhilarating and the virtuosity of the two soloists impressive, while conductor and orchestra manage to keep up - just.

Despite its curiosity value (and this is its first appearance on disc) Berezowsky’s Fantasie is hard to regard as anything more than just a harmless filler between the concertos of Poulenc and Paul Creston. This is Russian folk style with an expert’s handling of orchestration in the Rimsky-Korsakov tradition, all blended with what is not more than a mild dose of dissonance. Berezowsky spent the bulk of his life in America after the Russian revolution drove him away in 1920. He was then primarily a violinist (in the Coolidge Quartet) and conductor at CBS. More interesting, however, is Creston’s concerto (another world premiere recording). He too was an immigrant to America (born Giuseppe Guttoveggio) but of a poor Italian family and largely self-taught. His output became prolific and he won an impressive string of awards and prizes before establishing himself as an eminent teacher. This concerto is an attractive piece, skilfully crafted in the neo-classical style and recognisably American too with some complexities in its distinctive rhythmic shapes, a lovely central Pastorale followed by a racy Italianate Tarantella for a finale.

A highly commendable disc, the playing of the highest calibre despite the caveat of occasional breaches of the speed limit in Poulenc’s classic.

Christopher Fifield

see also review by Rob Barnett

 



Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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