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Johannes BRAHMS (1833 - 1897) Sonata for two pianos in F Minor, Op.34b (1863 - 1864) [39:12]
Five Waltzes, Op.39 (1868) [6:11]
Hungarian Dances Nos. 5 and 17 (1868) [4:27]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 - 1921)
Variations on a Theme of Beethoven, Op.35 (1874) [16:32]
Güher and Süher Pekinel (pianos)
rec. The Maltings, Snape, England, May 2003. DDD
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 61959-2 [67:00]

This new disc from Güher and Süher Pekinel offers an interesting recital programme and is well worth considering if the repertoire appeals.

The first and most substantial work on the programme is Brahms' Sonata for two Pianos in F Minor.  This work is one of the permutations of the composer's Piano Quartet in F Minor.  Initially composed for string quintet - in this case, a string quartet augmented by a second cello, rather than a second viola - Brahms was not satisfied and recast it as a sonata two pianos, in which form it appears here.  Clara Schumann then persuaded Brahms to find a happy medium between the previous versions and the Piano Quintet was born.  It is in this final form that the piece is best known.

Although I do prefer the version for piano and strings, this disc almost changed my mind.  The Pekinels present the work with such bite and energy that they sweep the listener away.  This performance has considerable forward momentum.  Even in the beautiful second movement, the sisters do not wallow or lose sight of where the melodic line is taking them.  This may not be to the taste of all listeners, some of whom may prefer this tremendous energy to be limited to the scherzo, but it makes for an exciting performance.  Anyone who knows and loves the Piano Quintet ought to get to know this alternative scoring, and I cannot think of a more exciting version than this.

After the major work, the Pekinels turn in lovely performances of some shorter pieces by Brahms.  They play a selection of five waltzes from Brahms' Op. 39 set with charm and sensitivity.  The two Hungarian Dances that follow are dispatched with verve.  I should note that the liner notes give the two dances in the wrong order, but the Hungarian Dances are so well known that anyone with ears will realise that No. 16 comes first and that it is No. 5 that finishes off the bracket of works by Brahms.

This all-Brahms extravaganza concludes with something 'out of the box'.  I had never heard Saint- Saëns' Variations on a theme of Beethoven before, but I am very glad that I have now made its acquaintance.  Based on the trio section from the minuet in Beethoven's E Flat Sonata, Op. 31, No. 3, this is a witty piece.  The French composer very much admired Beethoven, but this work of homage smiles more than it bows.  It makes for a delightful conclusion to a delightful disc.

The liner notes are decent and the recording balances both pianos well.  The middle range of both keyboards sounds murky for some reason, perhaps as a function of managing the usually resonant acoustic of The Maltings.  The ear adjusts, though, and once it does, the listening experience is most satisfying.

Tim Perry

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