If you’ve been following Naxos’s fascinating
series of Brahms’s music transcribed for two pianists,
you’ll know that his first piano concerto may be found
on both vol. 9 (Naxos 8.554116) and vol. 17 (Naxos 8.555849, reviewed
). That’s because the transcription of 1864 was
for piano duet (four hands playing a single piano) while
that of 1873 was for two pianists playing on two pianos.
Given the comparative rarity of middle
class households that possessed two instruments, the
transcription for a single piano was undoubtedly the
viable for Brahms’s publishers.
But listening to both versions side by side makes a convincing artistic
for using two separate pianos when replicating a score
that was originally conceived for a full 19th
It is, therefore, very important to make
it clear that Tami Kanazawa and Yuval Admony are performing
this music on two separate instruments, with all the
increased flexibility, resources and, ultimately, power
that that fact implies.
That issue of sheer power is, moreover,
particularly important in the case of piano transcriptions
of Liszt’s symphonic poems, many of which are, by their
very nature, very melodramatic. Not for nothing was Liszt
one of the most widely plundered composers when Hollywood
needed cheap “filler” music for action scenes. When,
for instance, in 1935 Erich Wolfgang Korngold found himself
too short of time to compose original music for scenes
of pirates looting and pillaging in Warner Brothers’ Captain
, he quickly utilised a few appropriate pages
from the score of Mazeppa
. And who can fail to
make the indelible association between Les Préludes
Universal’s Flash Gordon
serials of the late 1930s
where they created a virtually constant aural background
against which Buster Crabbe battled ceaselessly against
Emperor Ming the Merciless?
Thankfully, Kanazawa and Admony do have
the necessary power in their fingers to tackle the composer’s
riper purple passages – and they’re even better in Liszt’s
more reflective, lyrical passages. Past winners of the
2000 Tokyo International Piano Duo Competition, the 2001
Rome Prize, the 2002 IBLA Grand Prize and the Menuhin
Gold Prize in the 2005 Osaka International Chamber Music
Competition, this married couple clearly think as one
and complement each other beautifully. It is hard to
think that their performances on this disc could be bettered.
The trouble is, though, the music itself.
It is virtually impossible - especially in the case of
the most familiar work, Les Préludes
– to avoid
hearing the full orchestra in the mind’s ear so that
the pianos-only version inevitably emerges as colourless
in comparison. It is hard to escape the sad conclusion
that Liszt saw the making of virtually literal transcriptions
for piano as a simple money-making mechanism rather than
as a genuine opportunity for artistic re-creativity.
to have these works recorded
regardless of their intrinsic worth. The company is,
after all, committed to issuing a complete
of Liszt’s piano music - of which this is volume 29.
As such, they have employed two fine artists who have
done a very good job and who have been well, if perhaps
a little dryly, recorded.
I suspect, though, that this is a disc
mainly of interest to those completing their Naxos/Liszt
collection or to fans of piano duos. They will not be
disappointed. The rest of us can, though, rest soundly
in the knowledge that we are missing music that is, essentially,
of peripheral interest and little real worth. This fact
is tacitly recognised by Keith Anderson’s booklet notes
that tell us a great deal about Liszt and his symphonic
poems but add nothing specific at all about the rationale,
characteristics and performance history of the piano
transcriptions themselves. Perhaps, as I suspect, there
was just nothing to say.