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Serge PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Cinderella: Suite from the Ballet Op.87 (1944) Transcribed for 2 pianos by Mikhail Pletnev
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

Ma Mère l’Oye: 5 pieces for children for piano 4 hands
Martha Argerich and Mikhail Pletnev, pianos
SACD Hybrid Stereo/Multi-channel (reviewed in multichannel) a PCM 24/96 5.1 channel recording, recorded August 2003 in the Théâtre de Vevey, Switzerland.
Playable on all CD and SACD players.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 00289 474 8682 [49. 40]

 

Let us start with the nit-picking and the provisos. This is not a DSD recording, it is PCM 24 bit / 96 kHz. If you do not know what that means, then don’t worry about it. If you do know what that means then you can see that DG are not yet purists when it comes to SACD recording. It is a 5.1 recording and it shows, as I mention below. The disc is a measly 49 minutes long and that isn’t really good enough.

On the bright side, that is the end of my negative comments, because this SACD is a cracker! If one were to search the classical world for two pianists and money was no limit, you might well end up with these two anyway. As a duo Argerich and Pletnev are almost impossibly well matched. The timbre of the two pianos is beautifully caught and they play together as if they’ve been doing it for a lifetime. The booklet mentions the "exceptional creative atmosphere" that existed during the recording sessions. This is most strikingly obvious during Cinderella’s Waltz Track [5] when the gorgeous main melody flows between the two keyboards with quite extraordinary facility. They are indeed more like one pianist with four arms. Pletnev has transcribed just over 35 minutes of Prokofiev’s score in this Suite, that is about a quarter of the entire score. Prokofiev himself produced several different suites from it, one could say he milked it thoroughly. There are the Three Pieces for Piano Op.95, the Ten Pieces for Piano Op.97, the Adagio for Cello and Piano Op.97b, the Six Pieces for Piano Op.102, the Suites No.1,2 and 3 for orchestra Op.107, 108 and 109, and even a movement of the Waltz Suite Op.110 is from Cinderella. Pletnev has inevitably overlapped some of these in his reworking, but of course his is for four hands, two pianos, which gives him more opportunity for more complex textures. I loved it all. Cinderella may not be quite Romeo and Juliet but it runs it close. For those lucky enough to have multi-channel SACD try out Track [9], the Finale, for a nice subwoofer moment. Pletnev apparently hits the piano strings with the flat of his hand whilst still playing the keyboard with the other hand to achieve the sonorous and threatening bell-tolling. Out of curiosity I tried this last track on my CD player in straight stereo and it still sounded very impressive, if not quite so "present". It is a sign of a well balanced multi-channel recording that the rear channels never drew my attention until I switched to stereo and then I noticed their absence.

The Ravel is of course performed just as the composer intended. The move from two pianos in the Prokofiev to one in the Ravel is very audible indeed, as it should be. The sound is altogether less wide but still as startlingly realistic. So realistic that one can hear the dampers, the breathing of the artists and the very occasional vocal accompaniment. The performance is another tour de force and shows again what a magical score this is even without the benefits of Ravel’s orchestration. Marvellous stuff.

I am a bit disappointed with the notes. Rather too many of the column inches are a rambling panegyric about Pletnev rather than Prokofiev and Ravel gets a brief mention at the end. I suppose Pletnev did do the transcription so this has to be recognised somehow. Who cares, you do not have to read them. The actual track listing and recording data is all there in enough detail to satisfy.

Dave Billinge



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