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Nettle and Markham

Nettle & Markham in America
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990) Scenes from "West Side Story": Prologue and Jet Song; Something’s Coming; Maria; I Feel Pretty; A Boy Like That; I Have A Love; Rumble; Somewhere; Tonight; America
Richard Rodney BENNETT (b.1936) Four-Piece Suite: Samba Triste; Country Blues; Ragtime Waltz; Tempo di Hard Rock
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961) Fantasy on George Gershwin’s "Porgy and Bess": Introduction; My Man’s Gone Now; It Ain’t Necessarily So; Clara, Don’t You Be Downhearted; Strawberry Call; Summertime; Oh, I Can’t Sit Down; Bess, You Is My Woman Now; I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’; Oh Lawd, I’m On My Way
David Nettle and Richard Markham (pianos)
rec. 24-26 February 1988, EMI Studio 1, Abbey Road, London. DDD
NEMA NEMACD100 [66'29]

This is the third CD from this magnificent two piano duo to have come my way recently and I have no hesitation in recommending the latest arrival as highly as the other two. In contrast to the English and French compilations, this CD features only three works, albeit multi-movement suites with a huge variety of styles and moods.

David Nettle and Richard Markham have obviously thought hard about what would make a successful two-piano version of "West Side Story". Their aim was to emphasise the bel canto aspects and not try too hard to emulate Bernstein’s own Symphonic Dances. As it is, they have not only been successful in the former but have also achieved a suitably driving style for the more dynamic numbers. True, some menace is missing from ‘Rumble’ but the use of the big guns in ‘America’ makes for a tremendous finale.

Although understandably less theatrical than the original (and the Symphonic Dances), Nettle and Markham’s clever arrangements have led to a work suitable for the concert hall and the two piano sonority. There is great warmth throughout, particularly in ‘Maria’ and ‘I Have A Love’ where one hardly misses the words, given the vocal quality of the transcription. The shifting moods of ‘Somewhere’ are well captured amidst the powerful declamation. Inventive piano sonorities are to the fore in ‘Tonight’ in a rich arrangement.

Richard Rodney Bennett’s Four-Piece Suite is a gift for two pianists with the luxury of a piano apiece and David Nettle and Richard Markham make the most of it. Each movement has both an authentic feel and is artfully suited to the instruments. In particular, the beguilingly gentle ‘Samba Triste’ has a theme that insinuates itself into your consciousness with remarkable persistence. The affectionate tribute to Scott Joplin of the ‘Ragtime Waltz’ reminded me – more by association than content – of Richard Rodney Bennett’s fine variations on Joplin’s ‘Solace’. The driving ostinati of ‘Tempo di Hard Rock’ make a powerful finale and reminds us of the composer’s skill with film scores and prowess as a cabaret artist.

It is hard to imagine how the normally ebullient George Gershwin felt about the failure of his ‘serious’ opera "Porgy and Bess" and sad to think that, soon after its première, the headaches and depression of his last two years began. One soon puts aside such thoughts after a few bars of Grainger’s highly involving Fantasy on themes from the opera. Following in the nineteenth century tradition of operatic fantasies, paraphrases and variations, Grainger’s version sticks fairly closely to the original material. The notes suggest a comparison with Liszt; I find more differences than similarities. In terms of "Porgy and Bess", I suggest that Earl Wild’s transcriptions and elaborations are much nearer to the grand and fantastical manner of Liszt. No matter; Grainger’s version is dramatic and involving, especially as splendidly played here by Nettle and Markham, every number a gem.

Another winner!

Roger Blackburn

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