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Romantic Music for Two Pianos
Camille SAINT-SAňNS (1835-1921)
Danse macabre in G minor, Op. 40 (1872-74) [6:26]
Sergei RACHMANINOV† (1873-1943)
Symphonic Dances, Op. 45 (1940) [27:39]
Polka Italienne [1:35]
Prťlude in C sharp minor, Op. 2/3 (1892) [3:17]
Russian Rhapsody (1891) [6:56]
Benjamin BRITTEN† (1913-1976)
Mazurka elegiaca, Op. 23/2 (1941) [5:20]
Introduction and Rondo alla burlesca, Op. 23/1 (1940) [6:52]
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
The Poisoned Fountain (1928) [4:00]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
FÍtes, from Nocturnes (in arrangement by Maurice Ravel) (1899) [5:20]
Arthur BENJAMIN (1893-1960)
Jamaican Rhumba (1938) [1:37]
Witold LUTOSLAWSKI (1913-1994)
Variations on a theme by Paganini (1941) [5:16]
Joshua Pierce and Dorothy Jonas (pianos)
rec. 1979-88, Colden Auditorium, Queens College and LPR Studios, New York, USA.
MSR RECORDS MS1260 [74:11] 


Experience Classicsonline

I always enjoy hearing unusual repertoire and this exciting disc
certainly fits the bill. The label MSR Classics has compiled a disc titled Romantic Music for Two Pianos performed by the partnership of Joshua Pierce and Dorothy Jonas that includes eleven accessible scores and there are seven composers represented. I love how the selection mixes established scores in their lesser known arrangements for two pianos, like Saint-SaŽnsís Danse macabre, with other scores that I only rarely encounter, such as those from Britten and Bax.

Throughout this recording the splendid partnership of Joshua Pierce and Dorothy Jonas communicate a close rapport conveying refreshing performances of exemplary ensemble. The release benefits from a pleasing sound quality and the booklet notes are reasonably informative. I did notice that rather carelessly Rachmaninovís year of death is inaccurately given as 1941 and Brittenís Mazurka elegiaca is spelt incorrectly. Recorded over a nine year period and at different locations I assume that some of the earlier analogue recordings have been digitally remastered. 

The opening score and the earliest to be composed is Saint-SaŽnsís Danse macabre, Op. 40, written in 1872-74. Originally conceived as a song to a text from the poet Jean Lahore this is a thrilling performance of a work that never fails to please.

Written in the USA in 1940 this two piano version of Rachmaninovís magnificent three movement orchestral suite is a great opportunity to hear the composerís original intentions prior to his later full orchestration of the score. The name originally given to the work was the Fantastic Dances with the movements given the programmatic titles of Noon, Twilight and Midnight.

Bristling with ideas the opening movement Non Allegro is performed briskly by the impressive duo with a vivacity and drive that contrasts greatly with the contemplative inner section. At various points one notices the impression of the composerís characteristic tolling of bells. The central movement Andante con moto (Tempo di valse) has a dark and rather shadowy nocturnal quality and I love the surprising waltz infused rhythms. I experienced the final movement Lento assai - Allegro vivace - Lento assai. Come prima - Allegro vivace as especially remarkable for its abundant creativity. Threads of the well-known and sinister Dies irae (Day of wrath) motif from Gregorian plainchant are suggested throughout the work and the composer uses other identifiable quotations from his scores.

The light-hearted Polka Italienne, a souvenir of Rachmaninovís stay in Italy, is given an uplifting performance so immersed in summer sunshine. Rachmaninov came to despise the intense popularity of his marvellous Prťlude in C sharp minor which is an early composition from 1892; shortly after his graduation. The partnership develop the famous score from its heavy and cumbersome texture to a thrilling and vibrant journey. Rachmaninovís delightful Russian Rhapsody is a student composition from the Moscow Conservatory. Long thought lost this folk-song infused score is given a terrific performance packed with exhilaration.

Composed in the USA in 1941 Brittenís imaginative and rhythmically sparkling Mazurka elegiaca was written in memory of the famous pianist Ignaz Paderewski who in 1919 became the Polish Prime Minister. The Introduction and Rondo alla burlesca from 1940 is an earlier product of Brittenís stay in the United States. One is aware of the driving forward momentum that Pierce and Jonas positively assign to their performance. 

Bax composed The Poisoned Fountain in 1928 a work inspired by the Secret Well of Segais from his beloved Celtic mythology. This performance from Pierce and Jonas convincingly evokes an air of mystery and of flowing water from the well.  The attractive score FÍtes is the central movement from Debussyís Nocturnes the three movement orchestral suite from 1899 that was transcribed for two pianos by Maurice Ravel. The cheery dance-like quality of FÍtes has a compelling atmosphere of carnival fun and games. 

Arthur Benjaminís celebrated Jamaican Rumba from 1938 eclipses all of his other scores in terms of popularity. Evidently the jaunty and catchy rhythms of the Jamaican Rumba originated from folk tunes that Benjamin had heard during a working tour of the West Indies.

In 1941 during the Nazi-occupation of Poland, Lutoslawski composed his Variations on a theme by Paganini. Like several other composers before him Lutoslawski utilised the last of Paganiniís 24 Caprices for unaccompanied violin, successfully capturing in this interpretation from Pierce and Jonas the sparkling and carefree nature of the work.

Michael Cookson


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