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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Music for Two Pianos
Symphonic Dances for two pianos, Op. 45 (1940) (arr. Rachmaninov) [32.51]
Suite No. 1 in G minor for two pianos, Op. 5 (1893) [23.34]
Suite No. 2 for two pianos, Op. 17 (1900/01) [22.06]
Six Duets for piano four hands, Op. 11 (1894) [24.19]
Romance in A major for piano six hands (1891) [4.36]
Waltz in A major for piano six hands (1890) [1.59]
Russian Rhapsody in E minor for two pianos in E minor (1891) [9.02]
Martha Argerich, Nelson Goerner, Lilya Zilberstein, Alexander Mogilevsky, Daniel Gerzenberg, Anton Gerzenberg, Gabriela Montero (pianos)
Details of performers and recording information for each work at end of review
rec. live 2003-2010, Lugano Festival, Auditorio Stelio Molo, Lugano, Switzerland
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 623594 [78.40 + 40.04]

These Rachmaninov works were all recorded at the Lugano Festival. Held annually in Switzerland the festival is centred around the distinguished Argentine pianist, Martha Argerich. Argerich has been playing these Rachmaninov two piano works for years; music she can easily share with friends. Recorded over a seven year span Warner has selected seven works with Argerich and six invited friends, including her fellow countryman renowned Nelson Goerner.
The first CD opens with the Symphonic Dances - a glorious masterwork full of nostalgia for the composer's Russian years. This is the most substantial piece in the set and lasts here over half an hour. Cast in three movements it was written in 1940 mainly at Orchard Point, nr. Huntingdon, Long Island, New York and is the composer's final work. This two piano version was written at the same time as the orchestral score. Performed here by the Argerich and Goerner the playing is as inspirational as I expected with utmost integrity accompanied by startling full and colourful tones. Intense vitality is given to the stunning opening movement with the duo conveying an unsettling undertow of anticipatory peril. In 1893 Rachmaninov had just turned twenty-one when he wrote his Suite No. 1 for two pianos. The four movements are played here by Moscow-born Lilya Zilberstein and Argerich and each is clearly attuned to the demands of the score especially the chimerical mood-changes. This work together with the Suite No. 2 are really worth getting to know. In 1900/01 some eight years after the Suite No. 1 Rachmaninov composed his Suite No. 2, another four movement piece. Argerich is joined here by Gabriela Montero the Venezuelan/American pianist. They play so persuasively and revealing a particularly instinctive feeling for colour and nuance.

The second disc commences with the Six Duets from 1894. This is a considerable work here taking over twenty-four minutes. This is the oldest recording on the release being from the 2003 festival. It is played by Lilya Zilberstein and Argerich. Despite its trivial-sounding title this is a sententious work of varying moods requiring concentration and expression that in the hands of such accomplished performers is a joy from start to finish. The following works were recorded at the 2009 festival. The two pieces for piano six hands - the Romance in A major and the Waltz in A major - were written in 1890/91 whilst Rachmaninov was still a student at the Moscow Conservatory. Rachmaninov wrote the pieces for the three Skalon sisters: Natalia, Lyudmila and Vera. The delightful Romance contains music later used in the Piano Concerto No. 2 and it seems that Natalia Skalon wrote the theme on which the Waltz is based. The sparkling playing is given by the trio of Daniel Gerzenberg, Anton Gerzenberg and their mother Lilya Zilberstein. Finally we reach the Russian Rhapsody in E minor for two pianos that Rachmaninov wrote in 1891. It is another student work of real character and colour. In this rarely-heard two movement score the duo of Zilberstein and Alexander Mogilevsky excel. This is compelling pianism.

The engineers have provided satisfactory sound. Add to this a reasonably informative essay in the booklet. Overall this is a real treat, full of strong characterful playing and vivid colours from Argerich and her Lugano friends.

Michael Cookson

Details of performers and live recording information:
Lugano Festival, Auditorio Stelio Molo, Lugano, Switzerland:

Symphonic Dances, Op. 45 (1940) (arr. for two pianos by Rachmaninov)
pianos: Martha Argerich, Nelson Goerner
rec. June 2009
Suite No. 1 in G minor for two pianos, Op. 5
pianos: Lilya Zilberstein, Martha Argerich
rec. June 2008
Suite No. 2 for two pianos, Op. 17
pianos: Martha Argerich, Gabriela Montero
rec. June 2005
6 Duets for piano four hands, Op. 11
piano four hands: Lilya Zilberstein, Martha Argerich
rec. June 2003
Romance in A major for piano six hands, (1891)
Waltz in A major for piano six hands, (1890)
piano six hands: Daniel Gerzenberg, Anton Gerzenberg, Lilya Zilberstein
rec. June 2009
Russian Rhapsody in E minor for two pianos
pianos: Lilya Zilberstein, Alexander Mogilevsky
rec. June 2009