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Les Boys Baptiste TROTIGNON (b. 1974)
Three Pieces for Two Pianos (2014) [9:30] Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Sonata for Two Pianos, FP 156 (1952-53) [22:54]
Élégie for Two Pianos, FP 175 (1959) [5:55] Dave BRUBECK (1920-2012)
Points on Jazz for Two Pianos (1958-63) [26:36]
Duo Jatekok: Adélaïde Panaget (piano); Naïri Badal (piano)
rec. 2017, Maladrerie Saint-Lazare, Beauvais, France ALPHA 388 [65:22]
This rather strangely titled disc, Les Boys, refers to the illustrious piano duo of Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, for whom the Poulenc works were composed and who also recorded Dave Brubeck’s Points on Jazz. The recent Three Pieces by Baptiste Trotignon, a composer heretofore unknown to me, fit into this programme with their easygoing manner and jazz influence. The Duo Jatekok, of course, take their name from György Kurtág’s piano pieces Játékok (Games). This is their second CD. The earlier one, which I have not heard, contains dances by Grieg, Borodin, Ravel, and Barber. Adélaïde Panaget and Naïri Badal formed their duo in 2007 and were childhood friends. One hopes that they will record the Kurtág pieces so they can be better judged in the repertoire of their namesake. As it stands here, they seem more suited to the jazzy music of Brubeck than to Poulenc.
The disc opens with Trotignon’s Three Pieces. The first of these, Passacaille, is dedicated to John Adams and is interesting because it sounds like Adams in his minimalist piano style. It is followed by Élégie (to Francis Poulenc) that begins by sounding more like Satie and then Ravel before leading to a Poulencesque melody. The music revisits the Satie mode with a drone bass and simple tune on top and ends with a touch of Ravel. The best of the three, in my opinion, is Moteur (to Martha Argerich), a toccata reminiscent of Prokofiev’s similar works—specialties of Argerich—though it begins by quoting the opening of Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata and later turns quite jazzy. Requiring considerable technique, it is also the best match for Duo Jatekok.
While the duo clearly have the chops for the Poulenc works, undoubtedly the most familiar pieces on the programme, I find them too percussive overall. The sonata is a good case in point. Compared with two other duos, Pascal Rogé/Jean-Philippe Collard (Decca) and Ronald Pöntinen/Love Derwinger (BIS), Duo Jatekok are rather hard-hitting, the bell sounds in the third movement rather clangourous—almost Russian, like something out of Mussorgsky. The softer touch of the other duos does not preclude impact when required. Duo Jatekok, on the other hand, are more convincing in the last movement where they better demonstrate feeling for the music and aptly distinguish between the more percussive and smoother aspects of the music. Unfortunately, I could not find a recording of this work by Gold and Fizdale, with which to compare. There is a fine one of Poulenc’s earlier four-hand sonata. Duo Jatekok leave a similar impression, if to a lesser degree, for the lovely Élégie, my favourite piece on the disc. They display more warmth and a nice blend, but toward the end their sound becomes clangy. It was instructive to compare this with another recording I reviewed here: Louis Lortie and Hélène Mercier’s account on an all-Poulenc disc (Chandos). They are altogether smoother and subtler, and recorded more distantly. I’m sure the sound on this new recording, made in the medieval Maladrerie Saint-Lazare, affects my impression to some degree. A more distant recording would not have gone amiss.
Duo Jatekok seem to be more in their element in Dave Brubeck’s Points on Jazz. Brubeck originally composed this work in an orchestral version as a commission from the American Ballet Theatre. His older brother, Harold, arranged it for two pianos and it was first recorded in this form by Gold and Fizdale in the early 1960s. Stéphane Friédérich, in the barely adequate CD notes, cites both Chopin and Milhaud as influences on Points on Jazz. I hear more of Debussy and even Piazzolla here. The piece is in eight movements: Prèlude, Scherzo, Blues, Fugue, Rag, Chorale, Waltz, and A la Turk. I was especially impressed with the jazzy Scherzo, the Blues, and the Fugue where Bach meets Brubeck. The Rag is a real grab-bag of styles, but Scott Joplin is surely present there. I have not heard Gold and Fizdale in this work, but Duo Jatekok obviously relish the jazz elements and their style is well suited to the music. This is not by any means pure jazz like Brubeck’s signature “Take Five,” but fun nonetheless.
Overall, this CD is more of a curiosity and can be recommended primarily for those following the career of Duo Jatekok. Now, let’s hear what they can do with Kurtág.
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