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Charles CAMILLERI (1931-2009)
Concerto for two pianos and percussion (2005) [20:59]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
The Rite of Spring (1912-3, rev.1947, transcription for piano duet by the composer) [34:18]
Bela BARTOK (1881-1945)
Sonata for two pianos and percussion, Sz110 (1937) [26:51]
Kathryn Page, Murray McLachlan (pianos)
Heather Corbett, Stephen Burke (percussion)
rec. 2005/6, Whiteley Hall, Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester
DIVERSIONS DDV24167 [82:14]

It was not until I completed my review that I discovered that this CD was originally released (Dunelm Records DRD0258) in 2006 and was been reviewed on MusicWeb International in that same year. I guess much that I have said here is echoed in those two critiques.

This excellent CD opens with the premiere (and so far, the only) recording of Maltese-born Charles Camilleri’s stunning Concerto for two pianos and percussion. The liner notes explain that this work was the outcome of a late-night discussion with pianist Murray McLachlan in Chetham School’s canteen. McLachlan thought that it would be a great idea for Camilleri to compose a new piece for the 2005 Summer School. The composer jumped at the chance and soon produced the present piece for two pianos and percussion, “just as Bartok had done”.

The ethos of the work is described by the composer as one where “tonality, atonality and modality are treated as equal partners”. I would put this splendid work alongside its exemplar for its musical colour and rhythmic excitement.

It was some time in the early 1970s that I was introduced to Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. This was the Decca Eclipse (ECS 537) recording made by L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande under Ernest Ansermet. It was a reissue of his earlier 1958 recording. Although I have subsequently heard many recordings and a few live performances of this seminal work in its orchestral guise, this is the first opportunity I have had of hearing the piano duet ‘reduction’, and I was hugely impressed. To use the word ‘reduction’ is a bit of a misnomer. The score for two pianos was published in 1913, whereas that for the full orchestral would not follow until 1921. Stravinsky conceived his music at the piano; the duet was played through at a party with Debussy. One of the guests later wrote, “We were dumbfounded, overwhelmed by this hurricane which had come from the depths of the ages and which had taken life by the roots”.

It was the piano version that introduced Diaghilev to The Rite of Spring and from which the rehearsals were done.

What I most enjoyed about this ‘arrangement’ is the revelatory clarity of the music. Every detail is clear. It is a great opportunity to strip away the wash and overwhelming power of the orchestra and get to the essence of the work. There are several other recordings of this work, most recently by Marc-André Hamelin and Leif Ove Andsnes on Hyperion (CDA68189, 2017). I have not heard this disc.

Bela Bartok’s Sonata for two pianos and percussion, Sz110 needs little introduction. At present there are some 34 recordings of this work listed in the Arkiv catalogue. Jonathan Woolf in the above-mentioned review, noted the “quasi orchestral power of the opening movement”. It is this that impressed me most. I can hardly believe that there are only four players at work here. This creates an overwhelming sound, sometimes seeming to push towards jazz and even hard rock! There is considerable magic in the slow movement which highlights the ‘nocturne’ or ‘night scene.’ Bartok seems to be indulging in impressionism. I enjoyed the percussion-dominated finale which is full of fun and vivacity, once again pushing the boundaries of classical music towards something more ‘hip’.

The recital of these three-excellent works is superb. The recording is ideal. Jim Pattison has provided good liner notes giving the listener a grounding for each work. A plan showing the disposition of the percussion instruments and pianos for the Camilleri and the Bartok. The usual performer bios are included.

John France
Previous reviews (Dunelm): David Hackbridge Johnson ~ Jonathan Woolf



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