NEOS 20903CD NEOS 20903CD

2012 release. Featured works: Johann Sebastian Bach, "Jesus bleibet meine Freude (Choral from Cantata 147)," Claude Debussy, "Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune," Camille Saint-Saëns, "Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, op. 28," Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, "Overture to ‘The Magic Flute,'" Richard Wagner, "Prelude from ‘Tristan und Isolde,'" Sergey Rachmaninov, "Vocalise, op. 34 no. 14," Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky, "Waltz from ‘Swan Lake,'" Maurice Ravel, "Bolero." "Four hands, once again" (with a kind of melancholic stress on the once), this the title Theodor W. Adorno gave to a text he had written in that fateful year 1933 for a December edition of the newspaper Vossische Zeitung. With it he said farewell to a music-making practice that had formed part of his childhood and youth: the domestic four-hand performance at the piano, the instrument treated "more as a piece of furniture." The repertoire was one that "belonged to the family and the roof over its head." It was the epitome of conservative society, whereby a substantial number of "original compositions" was made available, as well as many more arrangements from symphonic and chamber music literature. To Adorno they did not appear doubtful entities, for even a compositionally rich text such as the first movement of Brahms' "Fourth" takes on an idiomatic mode when four hands are employed. He obviously felt that the range of monotone and tragic but intimate duet passages had only later been raised to the status of purely instrumental variety. Just a little later the demise of the genre: music for four hands has become but a vague reminiscence, and only a few had survived who, among the musicians, were still exercising this unfashionable art. In 1968, when he considered it suitable that this text be republished in the "Impromptus," he surely knew the tradition had been dead for a long time. Playing as a duo at one or at two pianos had begun to boom; composers such as Messiaen, Boulez, Zimmermann or Stockhausen had entrusted important ideas to the piano duo -- or were least ready to carry this out. The "unfashionable art" became suddenly topical, and the combination of two pianists was able to shed thoroughly the kind of Adorno reminiscence of an "outdated, domestic and dilettantish" tradition perpetuated by the great untrained. Piano duos must, for some time, have been highly specialized virtuosi, so modest their reaction to the music, fame, and applause (hopefully not the fees). They required telepathic skills in order to communicate one with another. There was just so much music of value when compared to the two-hand repertoire, a clearly smaller quantity; and this is why piano duos cast their eyes unremittingly on more remote areas of the repertoire, to include arrangements. There are finds to make here, allowing programmes with many an internal, dramaturgical link to be drawn up! At least this can be done if one struggles with oneself to remain humble before an original text and concomitant final authorial intentions. But what makes an original, especially if a transcription is that of the composer - one that existed as a piano version before the orchestration was carried out? From Mendelssohn's music to "A Midsummer Night's Dream" to Gershwin's "American in Paris," there are quite a few orchestral compositions whose original version was a two-piano work. Johannes Brahms (see Adorno, above) arranged -- before others did this -- his entire symphonies (including the orchestral part of the "German Requiem"); at Schönberg's "Association for private musical performances" there could be heard the Mahler Symphonies 6 and 7, and Richard Strauss' "Don Quixote" and "Sinfonia domestica" in four-hand versions. Debussy arranged "La mer," Ravel transcribed the majority of his orchestral compositions for the piano and vice versa; and Stravinsky's four-hand excerpt from "Le Sacre du printemps" developed simultaneously with the score. The principal reason and an excuse often cited for such arrangements, particularly those of the 19th century, are the rare opportunities at the time for the populace to experience orchestral music first hand, usually a privilege of residents in the metropolises. Furthermore, there were not yet any possibilities for electronic distribution, listeners remaining dependant on piano arrangements, ones which they could play or asked to be played. These reasons are now no longer viable and have been supplanted by a kind of "dialectic of musical enlightenment," the exact opposite in fact. In the "age of immediate technical reproduction", and the global threat of the equivalent of a heart attack suffered by classical music, it is the very pieces marked by their rarity which have a chance to be recorded: the aforementioned Mahler and Brahms versions are available on CD (with GrauSchumacher Piano Duo four-hand versions of Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps," Hindemith's "Mathis der Maler," Shostakovitch's "Fifth" -- as well as the Brahms "Requiem" -- already exist). Objections are nonetheless hardly raised, neither against arrangements made by the hand of the composer, nor against those done by others; and yes, there is an increased interest in becoming better acquainted with great composers as arrangers of music penned by colleagues whose work is held in less esteem. At the centre of the debate there remains in each case the loss of orchestral colour, or not, as the case may be. One nearly always arrives at the same result: an increase of "structural clarity" compensates against this apparent deficit. This applies for example to the polyphony in Mozart's "Magic Flute" overture, which becomes in Busoni's version a tour de force in terms of strength; the result is a highly antiphonal toccata. In Debussy's own arrangement of the "Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune," which emerged parallel to the score, one's attention is certainly directed toward the circumstance that the theme (in the flute), which surfaces eleven times, changes its melodic and harmonic contours with each appearance. Debussy/Saint Saëns arrangements belong in contrast to the species "contre cœur" as bread and butter transcriptions written for canny publishers: neither can one hear in the virtuoso piece "Introduction and Rondo capriccioso" any aversion on the part of Debussy to Saint Saëns; nor would one ever entertain the idea -- if the violin version were not within one's circle of friends -- that the two piano work was not the original. Max Reger was, like Bruckner, a Wagnerianer without any notion of what went to make a music drama. His treatment of the "Tristan" Prelude is ensconced within a tribute to the matrix of this New Music -- namely, his own. The Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky arrangements by Victor Babin, the male half of what was in former times a famous married couple of pianists, Babin-Vronsky, are hewed out of the score according to his own immediate pianistic needs, just as are the versions (three in total) of the Bach chorale "Jesus bleibet meine Freude" (Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring) by Dame Myra Hess. The only piece to which one would have sworn any resistance towards a piano transcription -- Ravel's "Bolero" -- proves a surprisingly suitable musical text. The loss of the parameter timbral quality sharpens the attention and allows one to perceive a heightened "subcutaneous" harmonic and rhythmic intensity. The very peculiarity of the different timbres (the effect of the piano at the famous flute-horn-celesta passage is astonishing, after rehearsal number 8). Ravel's score, governed by its turning cogs, makes for musical magic, but the piano four-hand version is imbued with a sense of unmitigated inexorableness. Performed by GrauSchumacher Piano Duo.