suspect that Rediscovery is very much the watchword for this scintillating
release from Ivory. Two piano teams were hardly unfamiliar at
the time that Virginia Morley (b.1915) and Livingston Gearhart
(1916-1996) were popular – one can think of Vronsky and Babin,
Smith and Sellick, Whittemore and Lowe and a number of other elite
pairings – but the American duo’s names will now be unfamiliar
to most. More so, perhaps, than the other teams and unjustly.
two Americans studied in Paris. They met in 1937 whilst both were
students of Nadia Boulanger and Robert Casadesus and they gave
their debut performance in February 1939 and then embarked on
a mini-tour of Europe before the outbreak of War forced them to
return to . They married in 1940 and played at supper clubs, broadcast
on Fred Waring’s show on NBC (initially wary of the idea, but
the publicity was huge). Trans-continental American tours and
command performances followed, as did a raft of recordings but
after their divorce in 1953 the musical partnership also dissolved.
Morley eventually married Waring. Probably the biggest contemporary
piece dedicated to them was David Diamond’s Concerto for Two Solo
Pianos but a large quotient of their repertoire consisted of Gearhart’s
arrangements and adaptations from the classical repertoire and
of popular songs. This two-disc set collates the product of their
recording sessions over the period of their fourteen-year collaboration.
They cut albums for American Columbia in 1947 and 1951 and two
for the obscure Omni Sound in 1954 just as their professional
and personal relationship was coming to an end. But fun it all
is – fun with a capital F.
Three Blind Mice gives us a glimpse into his arrangement
and adaptation priorities; teasing, tricksy, saturated in Gershwin
era drive with not a little Hollywood thrown in. But when he turns
to, say, Strauss’s Waltzes from Der
Rosenkavalier we find he’s much more respectful; this is his own arrangement
not the more popular Singer and it’s altogether straighter and
lasts shy of five minutes. Their Falla is thrilling; it’s a pity
in a way that the two pieces they recorded from El
Amor Brujo are separated
one to a disc but it means, I suppose, that we can encounter their
accent-driven drama anew. Examples of the sophisticated supper
club fare they furnished comes with songs
by Kern, Berlin, Duke, Youmans, Richard Rodgers and the like.
There are numerous examples scattered throughout such as Keeney’s
once ubiquitous Mountain Tune. But their French lineage
remained intact – cast your ears over the brisk Poulenc single
movement or their way with a contemporary French pop song, Lenoir’s
Parlez moi d’amour.
Then there’s Gershwin – highlights from the Concerto in F finale
and An American in Paris, all carried
off with such brio it makes one wish they’d recorded the whole
lot (their I Got Rhythm
has an alpha lashing of pep). The original two piano works, such
as the charming Arensky Waltz are played with discernment and
great adroitness. They were quite able to distinguish between
supper club and concert stage and with an ensemble as water tight
as theirs one could hardly doubt either their panache or their
sensitivity. If in doubt go to Glière’s Sailor’s Dance from The Red
Poppy where you’ll hear fleetness, colour and some splendid
bass “lurches.” So, yes, you’ll find saucy ones (Braham’s Limehouse
Blues) and smooth boogie (Gearhart’s own Baby Boogie) as well as Chopin and Rimsky flag-wavers, decked out
in virtuosic plumage, all of them kept alive and coiling with
constant ear-titillating panache.
notes are extensive and contain much biographical material as
well as numerous reflections and recollections from Virginia Morley.
There are also some delightful photographs. Transfers are spot-on
– not too much filtering. So if you fancy some two-piano wizardry
– as announced on Ivory’s cover and who am I to disagree – you
know where to find it.