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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. June 2002, St. George's Bristol. DDD.
DEUX-ELLES DXL1081 [62:51]

Piano-duet versions of Petrushka and The Rite of Spring exist from Stravinsky's own pen. No such version of The Firebird survives and Philip Moore has prepared a transcription for this recording. In a note contributed to the CD booklet, Moore describes the process as "essentially about translating orchestral drama into pianistic drama whilst preserving the logic and clarity of the part writing - my guiding principle, if there was one at all, was that as far as possible the musical texture should be split into its constituent parts and these then divided between the pianists, so that each player is following complete musical lines, thereby engendering a free, impulsive performance in the true spirit of chamber music".
Those final phrases very well describe the music-making on this disc. There is a very real sense in which piano-duet versions, if they are well made and if they are well performed, don't so much "preserve the logic and clarity of the part writing" of orchestral works as actually enhance them, or at any rate make them easier to discern, even if there are also inevitable losses in the movement from full orchestra to four hands at the piano. One of the pleasures of a disc such as this is that it sends one back to the orchestral works as a better listener, a listener with ears and mind more fully alert to those structures which can sometimes be partially lost behind the mass of orchestral detail. That is my experience, at least - especially where the works in question are these three great ballets by Stravinsky, so full of attractive orchestral colour and detail.
But I don't want to give the impression that this CD is of interest merely as a means to a different end, as it were. It deserves - and rewards - attention on its own terms. It is with Philip Moore's transcription of The Firebird that we begin and one's confidence in proceedings is immediately gained. Maybe there's more passion than darkness in 'The Infernal Dance of King Kashchei' but the music certainly dances, with an energy I haven't always encountered in performances of the orchestral original. The central 'Lullaby' rocks gently and persuasively, the writing for the piano and the playing alike delightful and rhythmically subtle, while the 'Finale' has great majesty without ever being over-inflated. The 'Russian Dance' which opens Petrushka is vivacious and engaging, the sound-picture of Petrushka's room has some exquisite moments and some abrupt changes of mood. The 'Shrovetide Fair' which closes this trio of pieces has all the frenzy one might expect, passages of pursuit and violence played with exciting precision and evocative insight. The incisive rhythms of the original and its sheer momentum are captured with a fresh intimacy in this 'small-scale' version. The interplay between Moore and Crawford-Phillips is absolute, so that one readily forgets that there are two performers, so complete is the integration of their contributions.
In their performance of the Rite there is plenty of drive and momentum, but never at the cost of accuracy. Moore and Crawford-Phillips capture so much of the spirit of the work, so much of its archetypal, mythical quality, so much of its sense of sacred renewal, that an innocent hearer would surely not suspect that it was a mere 'version' of a work more famous in another musical medium. They do full justice to the Rite's sub-title, 'Pictures of Pagan Russia'. In an earlier review, Dominy Clements spoke of how Moore and Crawford-Phillips "catch the Russianness in the work and avoid the shadow of Debussy" - and that puts it very well. Moore and Crawford-Phillips are never underpowered, never less than fully responsive to the emotional range of this ceaselessly astonishing piece.
These young English pianists are a team to reckon with and they are well served by a vivid recorded sound. This CD offers listeners the chance both to enjoy a fresh perspective on three orchestral masterpieces and to hear an outstanding piano duet at work.

Glyn Pursglove

see also review by Dominy Clements


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