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Beethoven String Quartets


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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Symphonic Dances, Op. 45a (1940) [32:00]
Suitesb – No. 1, Op. 5, Fantaisie-Tableaux (1893) [22:58]; No. 2, Op. 17 (1900) [22:43]
Peter Donohoe, Martin Roscoe (pianos)
rec. aHenry Wood Hall, London, 24-25 September 2004; bRNCM, Manchester, 5 April 2002. DDD
NAXOS
8.557062 [77:42]

The coupling of Peter Donohoe and Martin Roscoe is an inspired one. Both players have superb techniques and a truly innate musicality. Both, it appears, also love Rachmaninov, for these performances are suffused with dedication.

The disc opens with the Symphonic Dances. This is a late work. It is interesting how the sound of its better-known orchestral guise seems intrinsically linked to the composer's scoring; yet heard in the two-piano version it nevertheless sounds perfectly idiomatic. Having listened recently to Reference Recording's disc entitled Symphonic Dances (RR-105, Utah Symphony under Keith Lockhart and coupled with the Bernstein West Side Story Dances and Gabriella Lena Frank's Three Latin American Dances), where colours are heard in their brightest garb, it is something of a relief to encounter Donohoe and Roscoe. In particular, the shadowy Waltz of the second movement comes off well. Inevitably, perhaps, the 'sighs' that open the finale cannot have the same effect as the orchestral version - the piano simply cannot achieve the requisite connectivity between notes. Yet even here Donohoe and Roscoe achieve the requisite excitement later on.

The two Suites deserve greater currency. They most recently cropped up on a tremendous three-disc set by Madeleine Forte and Del Parkinson on Roméo Records 7252-4. The Naxos version puts Suite No. 2 first - so the disc playing order is reverse chronological order! The 'Alla Marcia' first movement is rather polite - one spends one's time admiring the neat staccato - while the Presto Valse chugs along nicely, both players being models of clean articulation. Delicate and sensitive, the Romance leads to a headlong finale.

The first Suite is a sequence of fantasias and elicits the finest performance by far on the disc. The initial Barcarolle is fluid, while the evocatively titled 'La nuit … l'amour' is dark and perfectly judged. Rachmaninov's famous bells make an appearance in the beautiful third movement, 'Les larmes'; the finale has a headlong momentum. A shame the recording is just a touch clangorous here, though.

This is a real bargain at the price and a testament to the stature of two of the UK's best pianists. It would be good to hear more of this coupling of talent from this source. The recording dates indicate these performances have been in the can for some while. I wonder what else lurks in there?

Colin Clarke

See also Review by Tim Perry


 

 

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