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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Pétrouchka [32:20] Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
16 Waltzes, Op. 39 [17:04] Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Four Tangos, arr. Bax and Chung [18:53]
Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung (piano)
rec. 24-26 February 2013, Wyastone Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD365 [68:18]
With this latest release from the husband-wife piano duo of Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung, I found myself asking the question: “how many husband-wife piano duos are out there?” My research revealed that this marital-musical pairing is far more common than I would’ve thought. Some of the greatest piano duo teams have been married couples: Josef and Rosina Lhevinne, Vitya Vronsky and Victor Babin, and Dallas Weekley and Nancy Arganbright, to name just a few.
In 2014, we can count more than a dozen international husband-wife piano duo teams, including the feature artists of this album. In addition to having highly successful careers as solo pianists, Italian-born Alessio Bax and Canadian-born Lucille Chung - who met at the Mamamatsu International Piano Competition in 1997 - have performed extensively together as a piano duo around the world. They have previously released CDs of the complete works of György Ligeti for piano four hands and two pianos (Dynamic, 2004) and Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (FWSO label). On this, their debut album for Signum Records as a pair, they present a diverse and scintillating programme of Stravinsky, Brahms, and Piazzolla.
Bax and Chung get things off to a promising start with Stravinsky’s piano four-hand arrangement of Pétrouchka. There are relatively few recordings of this piano duo version (David Nettle and Richard Markham, Netmark, 2011; Paul Jacobs and Ursula Oppens, Arbiter, 2008; Michael Boyd and Joel Schoenhals, Fleur de Son, 2006; Hans-Peter and Volker Stenzl, Ars Musici, 2002; Duo Benzakoun, Mandala, 1999; Dominique Morel and Douglas Nemish, Fleur de Lys, 1995) compared to the number of solo recordings of the Trois Mouvements de Pétrouchka. This new one is a welcome addition.
Bax and Chung clearly enjoy performing together, and from the opening notes of The Shrove-Tide Fair onward, their playing is virtually seamless. Technique and ensemble are impeccable. Having been so accustomed to hearing the work performed by a full orchestra, I was surprised at how effective this four hand piano reduction could be. Bax and Chung make it even more convincing. I particularly liked their light and well-articulated treatment of the Russian Dance and the splashes of colour that they produce in Petrouchka’s Cell.
Brahms’ 16 Waltzes, Op. 39 were originally composed in 1865 for piano four hands and later arranged for solo piano in both difficult and simplified versions. These are all short and charming pieces, ranging in mood from boisterous and playful to more melancholic to delicate and tender. Bax and Chung effectively communicate this diversity of character while always maintaining a forward momentum. These are, after all, waltzes, and here they get an honest and unidiosyncratic performance.
From the ballet to the waltz: there seems to be an underlying dance theme for this album. It closes with a set of four tangos by Astor Piazzolla: Lo que vendrá, Milonga del angel, Tango No. 2 and Libertango. Bax and Chung arranged these themselves for piano four hands, and not surprisingly, these versions are ideally suited to the talents and synergy of this duo. The Four Tangos are incredibly seductive and passionately performed. If you are interested in seeing the couple perform this live, you can check them out for free on Youtube. The pièce de résistance here is certainly the Libertango, which, with its infectious rhythms and brilliant glissandos,brings this album to a breathtaking conclusion.
The piano is captured in clear, dynamic sound, and the recording benefits from the fine acoustics of the Wyastone Concert Hall. The CD booklet offers detailed, well-written programme notes penned by composer and writer Patrick Castillo as well as an insightful personal commentary written by Bax himself.
I really enjoyed this CD, and I think you will, too. Alessio Bax and Leslie Chung are without a doubt one of the finest piano duos out there. I can’t wait to hear what they’ve got in store for us next.