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Bartok Camilleri & Stravinsky

 

Bartok Sonata for 2 pianos and percussion
Camilleri Concerto for 2 pianos and percussion
Stravinsky Rite of Spring (piano duet version)

 

Murray McLachlan, Kathryn Page (pianos)

Heather Corbett, Stephen Burke (percussion)

 

Dunelm Records DRD0258

 

After spending its first century masquerading as a stringed instrument with composers emphasising its singing qualities (Debussy wrote, for example, as if the piano should have no hammers), the instrument has developed a second career as a percussion instrument, and nowhere more obviously than in the 20th century's preoccupation with reinventing rhythm.

 

Bartok and Stravinsky make a perfect juxtaposition; both composers tried to combine the harmonic and melodic sophistication of the mainstream European traditions with the raw, yet modern influence of folk rhythms.

 

Murray McLachlan is known for his interpretations of contemporary music and makes a safe guide to the repertoire; the Camilleri arises from writing a new piece for the 2005 Chethams summer piano festival, and is extremely good listening quirky, pleasant and virtuosic by turns. Camilleri's varied background accounts for the accessible, eclectic style, although it is far from clear how direct are the links (referred to in the notes) between him and the other composers on these discs. Fine playing, making the textures quite transparent.

 

The Bartok is one of the greatest works in the piano duo repertoire, even though it was early in the emancipation of percussion. The McLachlans play with great attack and brio, the percussion playing is excellently edgy, and excellently recorded. I'm less convinced here, however, as to whether anything is added to the many great recordings of the work, in particular in an over-driven last movement. *

 

The Rite of Spring as a piano duet is a formidable challenge, harder even than Petrushka. There are many felicitous moments, most notably the sweetness of the Spring Rounds, the powerful driving force of the Dance of the Earth. At times, the sound here can appear constricted.

 

A few words of caution if you intend buying this recording. These are CD-Rs with stuck-on labels. The booklet is well designed, but the print quality, whether of the inner pages, which are on poor paper, or of the fuzzy photographs on the cover, is shoddy, certainly no better than that of your home inkjet. The set, which sells for the price of one CD is (inconveniently for production purposes) only two minutes longer than a single disc. Incredibly, the a note from the engineer tells us that when this issue arose, attempts were made to shorten the performance to fit it on 1 CD using the editing software, and only some extraneous sounds resulting prevented this taking place. Even with the current arrangement, it is surprising not to couple the two pieces with percussion together (which were also recorded on the same occasion) and to have put the Rite of Spring (in any case the longest piece, with the most tracks) on a separate CD.

© Ying Chang

* e.g the riveting, tingling vitality of the young Katia & Marielle Labèque (pianos) with Sylvio Gualda & Jean-Pierre Drouet (percussion) re-issued on ERATO STU 70642, being broadcast on "R3 Live" as I post this review on line! [Editor]