Sounds’ Falls
George GERSHWIN (1898–1937)
Variations on I Got Rhythm (1934) (arranged by Anna Lisa Fergola) [10:19]
Samuel BARBER (1910–1981)
Souvenirs Ballet Suite, op.28 [17:49]
Aaron COPLAND (1900–1990)
Variations on a Shaker Melody (Appalachian Spring) [6:02]
Preludes (1926) (transcribed by Gerald Stone) [6:29]
Rhapsody in Blue (1924) (arranged by Henry Devine) [18:38]
Anna Lisa Fergola and Roberto Ramadori (piano duet)
rec. Magister Area Studios, Preganziol, Italy 30-31 October 2009. DDD.
VELUT LUNA CVLD 186 [59:27]

The only original work for piano duet recorded here is Barber’s delightful Souvenirs, a set of six dances which might have been performed in the Plaza Hotel at the turn of the 19th century. It’s a really delicious confection, and it’s written entirely without irony, Barber having a great respect and delight for the kind of light music he’s celebrating. And it is a celebration, of the most affectionate kind. Fergola and Ramadori show real fondness and tenderness for this music, their performance is very good. Their straightforward approach makes the music all the funnier and more enjoyable.

I suppose that Copland’s Shaker Melody Variations (from Appalachian Spring) is the composer’s own arrangement; nobody is credited with the transcription in the notes. Taken out of context the work is small beer, and smaller still when shorn of its instrumental clothing. Again the performers give a “no frills” performance but it’s not particularly inspiring and some of the runs sound to be blurred.

And so to Gershwin. The Preludes suit four hands well, and one doesn’t feel that the textures have been filled out to accommodate the extra eight fingers and two thumbs. This is a nice performance but lacks real forward impulse, the music can stand some real weight which it doesn’t have here. Rhapsody in Blue was arranged by a man who studied the work with the composer and we must, thus, assume some kind of imprimatur on the arrangement. The performance, however, is dull and stolid, being too slow and without charm. The I Got Rhythm Variations was Gershwin’s final original composition for the concert hall and the orchestration contains some effects new to this composer. It’s a colourful and enjoyable piece but, as with other works here, stripped of its orchestral colouring it loses its appeal.

Fergola and Ramadori are obviously fine pianists but their approach to this music, Souvenirs excepted, is lacklustre and far too small-scale, and, it sounds to me, their ensemble isn’t always as good as it should be. It’s a valiant attempt to put a new slant on well known works but good intentions aren’t enough: there has to be a strong musicianship behind the endeavour. Sadly, strength, both of purpose and performance, is sorely lacking on this disk. The recording is very close with no feeling of the room in which the music was recorded. Ramadori’s notes are OK but I am left wondering what are the American ‘Avant-Guards’ he mentions. If you want the Gershwin Rhapsody and Variations find a version with the original orchestral scoring, they are fuller, more enjoyable, and present exactly that the composer wanted.

Bob Briggs

Good intentions aren’t enough