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Innovations: Music by Camilleri, Stravinsky and Bartok
Charles CAMILLERI (b. 1931) Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion (2005) [20.59]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) The Rite of Spring (1912-13 revised 1947) Reduction for piano duet by the composer. [34.18]
Bela BARTOK (1881-1945) Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion (1937) [26.51]
Kathryn Page; Murray McLachlan (piano)
Heather Corbett; Stephen Burke (percussion)
rec. Whiteley Hall, Manchester, 1 Sept 2005, 28 Jan 2006. DDD. Stereo
DUNELM RECORDS DRDO258. [2 CDs: 82:11]

This is an ingenious recital, excellently planned and played. It brings us a triptych of works, one canonic for the chosen ensemble – the Bartók – one clothed in unusually spare guise – the Stravinsky – and one new to disc and a wholesome and bracing addition to the repertoire, the Camilleri.

Owing its genesis to the composer’s visit to Chetham’s School of Music in 2004 Camilleri’s Concerto for two pianos and percussion was completed the following year and unveiled in August 2005. This naturally enough is its premiere recording. It’s an exciting, often advanced work, tonal in essence but fully prepared to draw the listener’s – and performers’ – ears into rich new sound-worlds. The percussion adds a veritable Kandinsky of colour or else assumes a rhythmic independence that galvanises the exchanges, dialogues and soliloquies between the instruments. The opening movement visits some jagged, dynamic, explosive figures, though it ends in a kind of speculative, tentative indecision. Strong contrasts are a feature of the concerto and the Bartók was clearly one of the thoroughly absorbed models, both in terms of sound distribution and the level of internal energy generated. The saturnine piano writing contrasts with more reflective material, the percussion adding jazz-based glee – puckish and insolent – that manages to drive the pianos up the keyboard. The finale opens with Mussorgskian catacombs but there’s plenty of powerhouse declamation and dynamism here, a really exciting end to a broad ranging and inventive new work.

The Stravinsky is unusual enough in this two piano reduction to make one listen anew with freshly cleansed ears. The clarity thus revealed brings one closer, perhaps, to the compositional impulses that drove Stravinsky. It can’t replicate, quite obviously, the more primitive dynamism, the remarkable colour or the sheer overwhelming newness of orchestration and rhythm that the orchestral work displays. Nevertheless when played with such incision and verve as here it’s exciting on its own terms. When we hear the Ritual of the Rival Tribes and the Procession of the Sage played with as much energy and pulsating drama as here, we can happily enjoy the whole splendidly realised performance – and savour its relative rarity value as well.

The Bartók has received a number of compelling readings over the years but its necessity in this programme is obvious and very welcome. Kathryn Page and Murray McLachlan convey rather well the quasi-orchestral power of the first movement and the ensemble brings colour and definition to the writing, as well as clear delineation. The shimmering intensity of the central movement builds properly and powerfully, whilst the rhythmic snap of the finale is notable. They don’t overlook the caustically witty ending.

With a spacious but focused recording set-up strands come through with clarity but no hint of coldness. This is a challenging and successful recital. It spreads over onto two discs but is priced as one.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by David Hackbridge Johnson


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