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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
The Firebird (arr. Moore) (1910) [11:46]
Petrushka (1911) [16:01]
The Rite of Spring (1913) [35:00]
Philip Moore and Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano duet)
rec. St. George’s, Bristol, June 2002
DEUX-ELLES DXL 1081 [62:51]


This new recording has a trilogy of Diaghilev ballets by Igor Stravinsky in, with the exception of The Firebird, the composer’s own versions for piano duet. Stravinsky composed his ballets at the piano, and the four-hands piano versions were used to rehearse the productions, so there are plenty of authentic reasons for these as valid performances.

With no Stravinsky four-hand transcription of The Firebird available, Philip Moore undertook the project of arranging the work for four hands, recorded here for the first time. As with all of these works, the music has a directness and logic which almost transcends the instrumentation used, but Moore’s arrangement is more than mere transcription. Certainly it creates a useful addition to the piano duet repertoire, but it also creates some marvellous pianistic moments. The rocking Lullaby takes on the character of Mussorgskian Russian bells at times, and the outer movements both create a musical tour-de-force which I suspect will find its way into core repertoire territory. 

Petrushka again presents no problems in this format, with plenty of ‘orchestral’ colour and dynamism. The quicksilver contrasts and programmatic nature of the motives make this harder to bring off in some ways than The Firebird, but while there are one or two slightly heavy moments with repetitive passages this duo manages the complex and richly notated score well enough.  

Philip Moore and Simon Crawford-Phillips have been performing as a piano duo since 1995 when they met as students at my old school, the Royal Academy of Music, and they have won numerous awards since then. Their technical prowess in these pieces is without question, but of course I had to have a rummage to see which other versions I could come up with. Here in The Netherlands we have a long tradition of messing around with multiple-piano composing, and while it is unfair to compare disparate arrangements I had some fun re-discovering the Maarten Bon four-piano recording of The Rite of Spring. There is also the impossible piano roll version, which appeared alongside Benjamin Zander’s orchestral recording with the Boston Philharmonic on IMP Masters. Bernard Job and John-Patrick Willow received a rather matte sounding recording on Vogue Classics, but more useful as a comparison is the Naxos recording by Benjamin Frith and Peter Hill, which appeared in 1996.

The Naxos sound is more recessed, but also has the benefit of a church acoustic. With a far closer presence this new recording has an intense spotlight on the duo, but I have the feeling that they are more under the skin of the Rite than with Petrushka and there are therefore fewer question marks. The burgeoning feeling one should receive through the opening Introduction is well in evidence, and with each section I was given the feeling that Moore and Crawford-Phillips had the right approach – making the work a convincing piece for piano rather than bending over backwards in an attempt to emulate an entire orchestra. Their tempo tends to be more measured, and as a result they can sound a little less spectacular than Frith and Hill. On the other hand they do hold onto that weight and earthiness which would seem to be an essential feature of the score. Frith and Hill are Parisian Rite, Moore and Crawford-Phillips catch the Russianness in the work and avoid the shadow of Debussy. If there is anything I could have wished for more of, then it would be a little more atmosphere in movements such as the Introduction of the Second Part. It might be the recording or the instrument, but there are very few moments when I felt a true pp pianissimo was being achieved: accompanying lines and the hierarchy of dynamics in certain places being to my mind less effective as a result.    

I am seriously impressed by this duo, and this new recording mixes it well with other established names in this repertoire. With an ounce more finesse and poetry in the simpler, mood-orientated moments it would be entirely outstanding, but even so this is a recording and performance which will supplement the orchestral version in your collection  - you do have the orchestral version, don’t you? - and add a refreshingly new and technically imposing view on these seminal 20th century masterpieces.

Dominy Clements

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