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
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
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.