Magical Places - Evocative Symphonic Poems for Piano Duet
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Night on Bald Mountain ed. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov arr. Nikolai Artsybushev (1866-7) [10:55]
Hugo ALFVÉN (1872-1960)
Midsummer Vigil (Swedish Rhapsody No.1) (1903) [12:16]
Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)
Escales (1922) [14:25]
Anatoly LYADOV (1855-1914)
The Enchanted Lake arr. Vasily Kalafati (1909) [6:13]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes arr. Erwin Stein (1945) [16:06]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
The Forgotten Rite (1912-3) [9:16]
Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow (piano duet)
rec. St. John the Baptist Church, Alkborough, North Lincolnshire, England, 2012
DIVINE ART DDA25104 [69:13]
Another disc of the very highest quality from the brilliant Piano Duet team of Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow. I repeat what I have written previously; their discs represent an ideal; superb and often rare music, played with great technical accomplishment and musical insight. They’re very well recorded and presented with liner-notes as informative as they are entertaining. My only quibble with the current issue is the umbrella title of “Magical Places” which to me implies something slightly fey and twee - a supposition instantly dismissed as soon as the music starts. In essence the six pieces are representations of places/times but the main interest - as ever with transcriptions of orchestral works - is how well they survive the move from full romantic orchestra to four hands on a single keyboard. There is further interest in that three of the works are presented in the composer’s own transcription - the Alfvén, Ibert and Ireland whilst the other three were done by friends or associates/contemporaries of the composer in question.
Two quick comments to make before discussing the music; as before on Goldstone and Clemmow discs the quality of the music-making is of the very highest order. I have nothing but admiration for the performances here. Whether or not one feels that the transcriptions fully realise the intentions of the original is a question relating to the transcription not the execution. Such is the unanimity and absolute accord of the playing that you have to remind yourself that there are two players here and that they make such light work of the fearsome complexities of the music presented.
Much as I enjoyed Anthony Goldstone’s superlative recital disc of the solo piano music of Mussorgsky I have to say the Night on Bald Mountain has never appealed to me much in any of its guises. What we have here is in effect a double remove from the composer’s original as the piece is a piano transcription of the Rimsky-Korsakov [familiar] orchestral version. I cannot imagine either the performance or transcription being better done but to my ear it remains an unwieldy piece. One little curiosity; a tubular bell is added to the score - as it is in the orchestral version - to represent a church bell marking the hour of dawn. The bell used here is fractionally out of tune with the piano which doubles the same note resulting in a slightly jarring effect. For all my disparagement of the work the closing lyrical section shows perfectly just how effectively the players are able to sustain legato lyrical lines with the various layers of melody and accompaniment perfectly balanced and voiced.
I should miss the orchestra more in the next two works - both showpieces for the modern orchestra and full of brilliantly conceived moments for large and colourful ensembles. That I don’t shows that, in the right hands, a good transcription can add to one’s appreciation of a work. The Alfvén proves itself to be full of wonderfully happy melodies artfully put together - Nationalist Rhapsodies all too often degenerate into a string of simple melodies knowingly orchestrated. It is Alfvén’s great skill that he manages to retain so much of the energy and spirit of the folk-tunes both in the original version and the one presented here. To quote Anthony Goldstone’s liner: “for sheer fun it is hard to beat”. I will second that. The piece I expected to ‘work’ least well in transcription was the next; Ibert’s Escales (Ports of Call). Too often still he is a composer disparagingly thought of as a kind of Ravel with jokes. For sure his strength lies in smaller forms and there is a wit and sophistication to his writing but it is not all froth and glib superficiality. In the transcription offered here there appears a work of great sensitivity and harmonic interest. It is an absolute gem and the piece that emerges with its stature most enhanced by the extra simplicity the piano duet version endows. Again Goldstone and Clemmow are a minor miracle of subtlety and shade with the complex filigree of the writing effortlessly dispatched. A lovely touch is Ibert’s use of tapping the wood of the piano to substitute for the tambourine of the original - it’s a simple nuance but a very effective one.
I love Goldstone’s anecdote about Lyadov’s famed indolence. I had forgotten he received the original commission for Diaghilev’s Firebird but due to his “legendary procrastination” got no further than buying some manuscript paper! Rimsky-Korsakov was his teacher until he expelled Lyadov from his composition class for being incredibly lazy. A personality trait exacerbated in Goldstone’s words, “[by] his marriage to a rich lady [which] no doubt contributed to his lack of motivation.” The muted pastel shades of the Enchanted Lake presented here is a study in atmosphere and musical colour. Again great credit must go to the players for their ability to create and sustain such atmospheric effects deprived of the orchestral resources of the original. The one work that struggles most with this is Erwin Stein’s transcription of the Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten. So perfect and complete is Britten’s conception with orchestra and music inextricably linked that Stein struggles to retain the full impact of the original. Again, there is no question of the work receiving anything but an excellent performance. Indeed the layers of the musical argument are forensically revealed but too often Stein has to fall back onto tremolando chords to sustain harmonic and dynamic tension. Not even this piano duet team can quite manage to reproduce the teeming flamboyant orchestral virtuosity of the original.
Given John Ireland’s brilliance as a keyboard composer the quality of his own version of The Forgotten Rite should come as no surprise. Goldstone’s liner gives us an insight into the care and consideration which is lavished on the preparation of this and all their other discs and concert programmes. The duo have stayed faithful to Ireland’s original tempo markings even though this pushes to the limits the ability of a piano to sustain the tone. Also, Goldstone has restored the original harp-art which Ireland deliberately simplified. In both instances these choices are triumphantly vindicated. The work remains one of Ireland’s most impressive and powerful compositions and in this guise links itself to the other great piano works inspired by his time living on the Channel Islands. It makes a powerful and compelling end to yet another brilliantly executed CD. Only the Ireland and Alfvén have been recorded previously. Not having heard any other versions I cannot make comparative judgments but I am sure I can say that the versions considered here will have little to fear from any others.
A word here for the technical presentation of the disc. The playright of the disc belongs to the duo and certainly Anthony Goldstone has recorded in this Lincolnshire Church a lot. No producer or engineer is credited which implies this is very much a project driven by the players themselves. The piano sound is very good; rich and full with plenty of detail. Having recently read a liner of a bare page and a half covering a major composer’s complete symphonic cycle what a delight to sit down and enjoy the ever-excellent notes provided by Goldstone. As usual these are copious - some eleven pages, in English only and written with an ideal blend of information and entertainment.
All in all another fascinating exploration of the rich repertoire of music for piano duet; a superb anthology presented with scholarly flair and musical insight.
Scholarly flair meets musical insight.