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Belle Époque - French Music for Two Pianos
Ludmila Berlibskaya, Arthur Ancelle (piano)
rec. 2018
MELODIYA MELCD1002563 [72:39]

This is not the first disc by the Ancelle Berlibskaya piano duo that I have, and I am sure that it won’t be the last, with their ‘two pianos originals project’ reaching France. Any disc of rare and under-represented repertoire of French music is worth investigating and you can’t get much rarer than the Louis Aubert which here receives its world première recording. The notes set the scene well with its brief discussion of the Belle Époque period of French music and its place in the cultural life of Paris.

The disc opens with a forthright performance of the Valse Carnavalesque by the only woman composer presented on this disc, Cécile Chaminade. The piece was composed in 1894 and is a bustling work in which the main theme is announced from the off, it is then repeated throughout although it is woven in different forms around the subsidiary themes. The Ancelle Berlibskaya piano duo sound quicker than Peter Jablonski and Bengt Forsberg on DG (471 331-2) despite there only being seconds between the performances, I think this is due to the brasher performance here of Ancelle and Berlibskaya which makes me slightly prefer the DG recording. However, they more than make up for this in the rest of the disc in which they give some marvellous performances.

The Chaminade is followed by the Op.6 Suite by Charles Koechlin, which although not unknown to me, I do not have this work on disc. Composed two years after the Chaminade whilst Koechlin was still a student, it opens with the lovely Andantino, here Ancelle and Berlibskaya capture the French atmosphere perfectly, with aspects of Fauré shining forth, which is something they carry over into the subsequent pieces of the Suite. The second movement Andantino con moto has a beautiful rippling effect, whilst the Andantino con moto quasi allegro opens in an atmosphere reminiscent of the opening piece before becoming more animated. The final Andantino quasi allegretto is the quickest of the four movements with its staccato like opening theme giving way to the more expansive main theme.

Louis Aubert was deeply rooted in the Parisian musical tradition, he was a chorister in the city and took part in the première of Fauré’s Requiem, before entering the Paris Conservatoire where he studied with the great man. He was considered as one of the finest pianists in the Paris of his day and gave many premières including that of Maurice Ravel's Valses nobles et sentimentales, which were dedicated to him. The neglect of Aubert as a composer has meant that this three movement Suite from 1900 is here receiving its first recording, and on this evidence is long overdue. It has three contrasting movements, the first is built around a strong main theme that eventually gives way to a more frenetic second theme before it returns. The second movement is a lyrical berceuse with its soft lilting thematic material being repeated. The final movement is an Air de Ballet and has, as the title suggests, a dance-like theme typical of French music of the period. This is perhaps the most pianistic of the works presented here, as well as one of the most enjoyable.

Reynaldo Hahn is our man from Caracas, with his family returning to Europe shortly after his birth. His Le ruban dénoué (12 waltzes for two pianos) dates from 1915, and at nearly thirty-two minutes, is by far the longest work on this disc. It features on the recent Melba recording by Leslie Howard and Mattia Ometto (MR 301148-49), but for me their recording is a little too slow, with the faster tempos struck by Ancelle and Berlibskaya being far better. These twelve dances are a fine example of Hahn’s pianistic style and a welcome addition to my collection of his music.

The final work on this disc needs less of an introduction - Debussy’s En Blanc et Noir - which was composed in the same year as the Hahn and is a Suite of three movements. The work is typical of Debussy’s later style with its muted pallet and more dramatic writing, with each of the three pieces being headed by a short poetic epigraph that sets the scene for the music that follows. The music is certainly the most dramatic of the five works presented here, this is perhaps why there have been a number of very fine recordings, but this new recording stands up well to scrutiny when compared to the two other recordings I have and that’s despite it being the quickest.

The performances are very good throughout, with the swifter tempos of Ancelle and Berlibskaya often helping, in fact, it is only in the Chaminade that I prefer the more relaxed approach. The sound on the whole is also very good, as are the booklet notes, making this a very attractive and welcome addition to my collection; highly recommended.

Stuart Sillitoe

Cécile CHAMINADE (1857-1944)
1. Valse Carnavalesque Op. 73
Charles KOECHLIN (1867-1950)
Suite for Two Pianos Op. 6
2. I. Andantino
3. II. Andantino con moto
4. III. Andantino con moto quasi allegro
5. IV. Andantino quasi allegretto
Louis AUBERT (1877-1968)
Suite Brève Op.6
6. I. Menuet
7. II. Berceuse
8. III. Air de Ballet
Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947)
Le ruban dénoué, 12 waltzes for two pianos (1915)
9. I. Décrets indolents du hasard
10. II. Les soirs d'Albi
11. III. Souvenir... Avenir...
12. IV. Danse de l'amour et du chagrin
13. V. Le demi-sommeil embaumé
14. VI. L'anneau perdu
15. VII. Danse du doute et de l'espérance
16. VIII. La cage ouverte
17. XI. Soir d'orge
18. X. Les baisers
19. XI. Il sorriso
20. XII. Le seul amour
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
En Blanc et Noir, suite for two pianos L. 134
21. I. Avec emportement
22. II. Lent. Sombre
23. III. Scherzando


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