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Maurice RAVEL (1875 - 1937)
Rapsodie espagnole (1907) [14’58"]
Ma mère l’oye (1910) [15’06"]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862 - 1918)

Six Epigraphes antiques (1914) [14’44"]
En blanc et noire (1915) [15’31"]
Duo Villarceaux: Alexandra Sostmann, Judith Mosch (pianos).
rec. Sendesaal des Funkhauses, Koln. No recording dates supplied, disc issued: 2005. DDD

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This is an absolutely lovely disc. It is the first opportunity I have had to hear this young piano duo, which was formed as a semi-permanent group in 1996. Both players met while attending a master-class of Christian Zacharias during the Festival d’Ile de France, held at the Chateau de Villarceaux. They had both been attending as soloists and during the festival had decided to form the duo. They won first prize at the Caltanisetta International Chamber Music Competition in Sicily in 1998, and have gone on to develop a very successful career, having given recitals all over Europe.

They have previously released (also on Thorofon) works by Stravinsky and Rachmaninov. If these are anywhere near as good as the current issue, they will also be well worth purchasing.

Both Ravel and Debussy wrote principally for the piano and many of the pieces were orchestrated by themselves and/or others. Both versions have had independent lives. The works on the current disc were all written for piano duo by their respective composers and are at the cornerstone of the piano duo repertoire, as well as providing material for orchestral pieces. The most famous of these is Rapsodie espagnole which, as most enthusiasts know, was orchestrated by the composers. In this form it is one of the most effective pictures of Spain that exists. To claim that this piano adaptation (by the composer) is no less effective for duo piano than the orchestral version is of course dependant upon the playing ability of the two soloists. I found the Spanish atmosphere of the work was as powerfully conveyed as that in the orchestral arrangement, indeed, although they are not there, one can imagine the sound of the castanets very clearly. It is as if they were there.

The ballet Ma mère l’oye in its duo form is captivating. The five movements are delightfully performed, and the recording quality is superb, handling the large dynamic range effortlessly. The instruments used are also evenly matched and have a sonorous tone, especially in the hands of this duo.

When we reach the Debussy items, Ernest Ansermet comes to mind, since it was he who made the orchestration of the Six épigraphes antiques. His original recording made in the fifties is currently available on Testament, and a modern version, superbly performed and recorded is intermittently available on Arabesque – San Francisco Ballet orchestra – Emil de Cou. The original piano duet version is from Debussy’s own hand. Listening to this performance, one can understand why Ansermet made this arrangement: the piano textures suggest an orchestral guise. These two soloists make a wonderful job of the suite.

En blanc et noir is perhaps the least well known piece here. In three sections, this was a solo piano piece written by Debussy at the end of his life. The three movements were originally entitled Caprice en blanc et noir, which led some people to connect them with the etchings Goya called Caprichos.

This is a superb disc in every way, and should not be missed.

John Phillips


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