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Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Concerto for two pianos and orchestra, H.292 (1943) [24.27]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Sonata for two pianos (1942/44) [1029]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Concertino in A minor for two pianos Op. 94 (1953) [9:10]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Concerto in D minor for two pianos and orchestra, FF61 (1932) [19.36]
Bizjak Piano Duo (Sanja Bizjak, Lidija Bizjak (pianos))
Stuttgarter Philharmoniker/Radoslaw Szulc
rec. 2014, Gustav-Siegle-Haus, Stuttgart, Germany
ONYX 4148 [63.49]

It is rare to find a single CD release with such fascinating twentieth-century repertoire as this. It comes from the Bizjak Piano Duo making its debut release on Onyx. We have a pair of works for two pianos and orchestra from Martinů and Poulenc flanking a couple for two unaccompanied pianos from Stravinsky and Shostakovich. The soloists Serbian sisters Sanja and Lidija Bizjak studied at Belgrade before enrolling at the Paris Conservatoire. Winners of two prizes at the ARD International Music Competition in 2005, the Bizjak sisters have been acclaimed internationally. The duo is not too well known in the UK as yet but has appeared with the Britten Sinfonia at the 2009 BBC Proms on "Multiple Pianos Day".

Martinů had been at the London première of Bartók’s Sonata for two pianos and percussion which may have inspired him to write his Concerto for two pianos and orchestra. The three movement score from 1943 is a product of the years in exile in the USA. Angular rhythms and jazzy textures dominate the opening Allegro non troppo. Thickly reflective and atmospheric, the Adagio is followed by a high-spirited Allegro which feels as if the pianos are mischievously sparring. Stravinsky’s Sonata for two pianos was also written in the USA in 1942/44. This blustery three movement work is suffused with Russian themes. Like the Martinů Concerto the opening Moderato is rhythmic and angular yet light and unthreatening. The theme and set of four variations of the central movement creates an almost childlike effect in its charm and innocence. The Finale is a vivacious and intrepid Allegretto.

Shostakovich’s Concertino for two pianos is a work I rarely see on concert programmes. This A minor work was composed in 1954 for his son Maxim’s graduation from Central Music School, the preparatory college of the Moscow Conservatory. Father and son went on to record the work in 1956. Cast in a single movement the Concertino is joyful mix of vibrant colours; guaranteed to delight those encountering the work for the first time. Composed swiftly in 1932 Poulenc’s Concerto in D minor for two pianos and orchestra was a commissioned by Princesse Edmond de Polignac (Winnaretta Singer) the heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune. It was Poulenc who gave the première accompanied by his friend Jacques Février with the La Scala Orchestra, in Venice. Bold and somewhat showy the opening Allegro ma non troppo has the ability to dazzle. The Mozartean Larghetto is affectionate with all the comforting innocence of a children’s nursery. For contrast there's a central section of gathering weight and nervous tension. Providing an upbeat conclusion the Allegro molto is Poulenc at his most dashing, with joyous writing full of vivid colours.

The sound is warm which seem to come at the expense of some clarity. Nevertheless the balance between pianos and orchestra is excellent. A minor grumble is that there was room left on the disc sufficient to have accommodated another work or two. It’s a shame the Bizjak sisters don’t seem to know the splendid Concerto for two pianos and orchestra (1950) by Sir Arthur Bliss, a twentieth-century work which would have fitted perfectly. These impressive sisters are on blistering form and play with intelligence, liveliness and considerable charm. Under the baton of Radoslaw Szulc the Stuttgarter Philharmoniker is a sensitive partner providing welcome detail rather than overstated accompaniment. If the choice of repertoire appeals there is no reason at all to hesitate with this excellent Onyx release.

Michael Cookson