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A Celebration of Duo-Piano Music
Emanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
España [6:43]
Isaac ALBENIZ (1860-1909)
Rapsodia Española [10:45]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Spanish Rhapsody (arr. Ferrucio Busoni) [15:54]
Manuel INFANTE (1883-1958)
Andalusian Dances [14:47]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Rhapsodie Espagnole [14:53]
La Valse [12:04]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen Fantasy (arr. Abram Chasins) [8:22]
Manuel De FALLA (1876-1946)
Danse Espagnole No 1 (La vida breve) [2:30]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Variations on a Theme by Beethoven Op. 35 [17:19]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
En Blanc et Noir [14:01]
Francois POULENC (1899-1963)
Concerto for Two Pianos [19:05]
Valse-musette [2:12]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Suite No. 2, Op. 17 [24:21]
Fantasy Op. 5 [27:23]
Reinhold GLIERE (1875-1956)
Six Pieces [8:19]
Anton ARENSKY (1861-1906)
Suite, Op. 15 [13:12]
Aram KHATCHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Fantastic Waltz (from Three Pieces) [4:09]
Madeleine Forte (piano)
Del Parkinson (piano)
rec. live, Morrison Center for the Performing Arts, Boise, Idaho, 1988, 1991, 1992
ROMÉO RECORDS 7252-4 [74:57 + 65:00 + 78:12]

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In looking at the package, there is a lot to like about this set.  First is the rather extensive collection of duo-piano music. Many of these pieces are rarely encountered on disc.  Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos isn’t something one sees every day. The other greatly attractive aspect is the price, which is certainly reasonable, considering the amount of music found here, with a playing time of well over three hours.  The three discs are organised into Spanish, French, and Russian programmes. 

The recording venue was a bit of a surprise, so I did some delving into the liner notes.  Del Parkinson was born in Idaho and coordinated piano instruction at Brigham Young University and has been a professor of Piano studies at Boise State University.  Madeleine Forte is also a professor Emerita, as her website indicates, at the Morrison Center for the Performing Arts in Boise.

Of the different programmes here, the French set has quite a bit of appeal.  The opening Saint-Saëns set of variations holds great charm and affability.  My preferred recording remains the scintillating performance of Bracha Eden and Alexander Tamir, recorded back in the 1960s for Everest. Sadly this is not available on CD, at least to my knowledge.  The version of Debussy that follows, played here without orchestral backup, lags a bit in comparison to other performances that are commercially available. The opening movement has spirit and the following Lent movement begins pensively and resolutely builds.  The performance suffers, however, from the lack of the orchestral part, as well as a somewhat compressed sound.  No mention is made in the liner notes that this piece was composed with orchestral support.  Over this performance I recommend that of Pascal Rogé and Sylvain Deferne with the Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of Charles Dutoit.  Their recording has more snap as well as more presence.  Included as an encore is the Valse-Musette of Poulenc, a pleasant, light curtain-closer.  Audience presence is not particularly evident on the discs overall, with little shuffling/coughing/sneezing to distract, though there is some applause at the end of the final track. 

My least favourite of the discs is the Spanish programme, which, especially with the Chabrier piece, has a rather compressed and tinny quality.  But look at the pieces here — Manuel Infante’s Andalusian Dances, the Liszt/Busoni Spanish Rhapsody and Ravel’s own Rhapsodie Espagnole.  To this reviewer, the performances fail to bring out the dramatic magnetism that these pieces have. They are the least convincing in the set with a rather unsatisfying sound.

The Russian disc holds much for those on the prowl for seldom-recorded pieces although these are mixed with more frequently recorded pieces.  Case in point are the duo piano works of Rachmaninov, which found extremely enjoyable performances recorded for Hyperion with Howard Shelley and Hilary MacNamara.  In comparison to that release, the Rachmaninov here, aside from the recording quality, is enjoyable, though less well articulated.  The Valse movement of the Piano Suite No. 2 is a great example of where the Shelley/MacNamara recording shines, with great effervescence and presence that the Forte/Parkinson doesn’t quite have.  The Gliere miniatures on the Forte/Parkinson disc have a brighter sound than the preceding Rachmaninov, and the Valse triste is especially enjoyable, with its rocking left hand and sombre mood.

The recordings found here are from a series of performances made over the span of four years and, though recorded in the same venue with the same performers, remain a mixed bag as far as recording quality is concerned. Audio quality is variable, and that’s the main thing that stood in the way of my enjoying the music here.  As a whole, the recording quality of the performances is passable, but the listener often finds the limitations of the recording getting in the way of what are some competent and occasionally rather engaging interpretations.  This set has quite a bit of appeal for those who for a quite reasonable price, require creditable performances of a collection of duo-piano works without having to hunt down a wide array of discs that likely aren’t in one’s record shop.  For those looking for a reasonably-priced overview of duo-piano music, this may be for you, but other brighter recordings are out there.

David Blomenberg 


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