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Liszt to Milhaud: A Journey with Piano Four Hands
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Two Scenes from Lenau’s Faust, S.599 1. Der nächtliche Zug [11:42]; 2. Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke (1856-64) [10:49]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Slavonic Dances, op. 46 Nos 1-3 (1878) [13:28]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Love Duet from Faust (“O nuit d’amour”) (1859, arr. Hans Engelmann) [3:24]
Benjamin GODARD (1849-1895)
Berceuse from Jocelyn (1888) [2:32]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
‘Overture’ from Carmen (1875) [1:59]
Charles GOUNOD
Waltz from Faust (1859, arr. W.P. Mero) [3:27]
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
Le Boeuf sur le toit, op. 58 (1920) [17:15]
Zeynep Ucbasaran and Sergio Gallo (four hands at one piano)
rec. 2016, Hahn Hall, Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara, California
DIVINE ART DDA25208 [64:40]

This is an album to simply enjoy. There is nothing demanding or challenging in this hour-plus selection of (largely) well-known music. As in all selections of music, some pieces will appeal to a greater or lesser extent to each listener.

The recital begins with Two Scenes from Lenau’s Faust by Franz Liszt. I find the first piece, the 11-minute-long ‘Der nächtliche Zug’ (The Night Procession), insipid and longwinded, which is a pity, as there are some enchanting moments in the progress of this piece. The second number is infinitely more satisfying. Hiding in it as ‘The Dance in the Village Inn’ is the ‘Mephisto Waltz’ No.1. This well-known number is played here with flair and panache.

Any selection from Anton Dvořák’s two sets of Slavonic Dances op.46 and op.72 (1878, 1886) is always a pleasure to hear. What many listeners forget, is that they were originally composed for four-hand piano. Both sets were later orchestrated by Dvořák at the behest of his publisher. The three Dances played here are taken from ‘Set One’ op.46. The first, No.1 is a rapid and fiery Bohemian dance, the ‘Furiant’. This is followed by No.2, which is a melancholic and thoughtful ‘Dumka’. In conclusion, is another ‘Furiant’ (No.8), this time inspired by itinerant Hungarian fiddlers.

Benjamin Goddard is now recalled only for his opera Jocelyn. For every listener who has persevered with the entire production, thousands will recall the beautiful ‘Berceuse’: "Oh! ne t'éveille pas encore" (Oh! Do not wake up yet) but better known as ‘Angels Guard Thee’. It is a delicious lullaby that transcends age. This short piece is given a magical performance. Incidentally, the opera was premiered in Brussels on 25 February 1888.

This ravishing number is followed by the Overture to the world’s most popular opera, Georges Bizet’s Carmen. (Readers may disagree with this statement, but I am sure I am not too far from the truth!) And yes, I have seen the cigarette factory in Seville where she worked. The enthusiastic tourist is liable to forget that this beguiling lady and Don José are fictional characters…The Overture works well as a piano duet. The ‘Bullfighters’ music and the ‘Toreador’s Song’ coupled with a short dramatic phrase associated with Carmen’s fate provide a sparking and vibrant short work. It is played here with panache and total lack of condescension for what are two of the most popular tunes in the opera.

Charles Gounod made his name with his five-act opera Faust, premiered in Paris on 19 March 1859. The story is too well-known to rehearse here. Zeynep Ucbasaran and Sergio Gallo give two ‘potboilers’ from the opera. First up, is the ‘Love Duet’ (“O nuit d’amour”) sung when Faust and Marguerite fall in love and pledge their troth. The second transcription is ‘Waltz from Faust’. This is a moment of ‘respite’ from the drama of the legend. Villagers dance and sing the waltz. It is breezy and joyful. However, in the middle section the music is just a touch more serious.

For me, the highlight of this CD is the buoyant and spicy recital of Darius Milhaud’s Le Boeuf sur le toit, op. 58, composed shortly after the end of the First Word War. This was originally written for a surrealist ballet devised by the eccentric Jean Cocteau. It was conceived for two-pianos and was subsequently orchestrated by Milhaud. The entire work is based on more than 30 mainly Brazilian popular music, folk tunes, and dance rhythms, quoted at greater or lesser length. The main ‘theme’ is a Tango which recurs several times. Sometimes tunes are played simultaneously and in different keys. Milhaud once declared that the original score was inspired by witnessing the carnival in Rio de Janeiro. It is played here with imagination, humour, and a sense of the unreal - a great finish to an interesting and largely enjoyable ‘journey.’

Little need be added about the helpful liner notes and the exceptional and vibrant recording. I have noted the superb playing by Zeynep Ucbasaran and Sergio Gallo throughout my review. I hope that this CD is a success and I look forward to reviewing further recitals from this talented pair.

John France

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