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French Concertos for Two Pianos
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)

Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in d minor (1932) [17:14]
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra (1942) [17:03]
Robert CASADESUS (1899-1972)
Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, op. 17 (1932-33) [19:25]
Piano Duo Genova and Dimitrov
SWR Rundfunkorchester Kaiserslautern/Alun Francis
rec. June 10-14, December 15-17, 2003, SWR Studios, Kaiserslautern, Germany
CPO 999 992 2 [54:14]

 

 




The period spanning 1890 and 1975 in France is remarkable for the sheer volume of fine music that poured from the pens of her composers. Beginning with Debussy and Ravel, and culminating in the group of talented youth that the multi-faceted artist Jean Cocteau was to name Les Six, a wealth of fresh and original music came forth on the planet, the consistent quality of which is remarkable for any nation at any point in history.

All of the composers in question were of one mindset, that being of sharp reaction to Wagnerism and its romantic excesses. The neoclassic ideal, with its strict adherence to concise and direct formal structure, clear melodic invention and a well organized sense of harmony was to dominate the output of more than a dozen truly significant composers (Poulenc, Milhaud, Honegger, Ravel, amongst others) and several lesser lights who nonetheless put out a large quantity of excellent music (Chabrier, Durey, Roger-Ducasse, to name a few.)

CPO continue to plumb the fringes of the repertoire and come up with disc after disc of refreshing, interesting, even invigorating music, well within the bounds of the public’s taste for the conservative and far enough off the beaten path to strike the fancy of the more adventuresome among us. With this release of duo piano concerti by two composers who performed, and one performer who composed, we are treated to a splendid series of compact delights; three brief but intense works that sparkle with energy and invention.

We open with the whirlwind of a concerto by Poulenc, whose jazz influence is never far from the surface and who can yet turn around and spin out a delightful melody in the slow movement worthy of Mozart or Haydn. Then follows Milhaud’s work, composed a decade later. A bit more abstract than the fetching, immediately engaging Poulenc concerto, Milhaud proves himself nonetheless to be no slouch either in terms of virtuoso display or melodic invention.

The disc concludes with a work by the great piano virtuoso Robert Casadesus. How very pleasant it is to hear a composition by this great master musician and, who was also the patriarch of a remarkable musical family. Truly one of the greatest musicians of the last century, Casadesus’ work both as a composer and as a pianist are sadly underrepresented on disc, and I was personally delighted to see that this work has appeared in a recent performance.

And what of our musicians? There is nothing but praise to be given for this team of pianists whose technique is dazzling, sense of ensemble is flawless and whose oneness with the music and with each other is completely palpable. Alun Francis and his orchestra provide a spirited, elegant accompaniment completely in step with the geist of this music and full of the sheer joy of playing something that is both fun and captivating.

CPO’s production values are of their customary high standard. One complaint however is that Susan Marie Praeder’s translation of Burkhard Egdorf’s program note is rife with pretentious multi-syllabic and obtuse structures of sentence which make for some rather convoluted and obstreperous necessitations of interpretive prowess on the part of the reader, demanding the utmost of his lexicographical intuitiveness. (Get the picture?)

Recommended without hesitation to lovers of fantastic music and Scrabble players everywhere.

Kevin Sutton

 

 

 



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