Classical CD Reviews

RACHMANINOV: Music for Two Pianos = Symphonic Dances, Op. 45; Suite No. 2, Op. 17; Suite No. 1, Op. 5 – Peter Donohoe and Martin Roscoe, pianos – Naxos

A gorgeous disc, one that reminds me how much I miss my first musical duo for this grand music, Vronsky and Babin.

Published on July 16, 2007

RACHMANINOV: Music for Two Pianos = Symphonic Dances, Op. 45; Suite No. 2, Op. 17; Suite No. 1, Op. 5 – Peter Donohoe and Martin Roscoe, pianos – Naxos
RACHMANINOV: Music for Two Pianos = Symphonic Dances, Op. 45; Suite No. 2, Op. 17; Suite No. 1, Op. 5 – Peter Donohoe and Martin Roscoe, pianos – Naxos 8.557062, 77:39 ****:

More than several sparks emanate from this fine two-piano recital (recorded 2002-2004), and I note that the artistry of Peter Donohoe (b. 1953) has captivated me since I first heard him play music by Tchaikovsky and Britten for EMI. The Symphonic Dances, even in their two-keyboard form, retain a powerfully robust sonority, that acerbic bite–no brittleness of tone here–I first heard when I auditioned the classic Everest recording with Sir Eugene Goossens. Assertive, propulsive, the Dances at various points seem to suggest aspects of the composer’s treatment of Poe’s The Bells, as the sonic aura becomes more unreal and then haunted by the Dies Irae and intimations of mortality.

A brisk, hearty athleticism marks the Second Suite, Op. 17–written for the composer and his colleague Goldenweiser–and one can hear homage to Bizet’s Jeux d’Enfants. Even in the rather luscious waltz of the second movement there tolls a hint of the Judgment Day, so that Rachmaninov’s figures, like those of Poe, laugh but smile no more. A lovely sonic patina dominates this fine disc, and the balances between the two pianos shines, courtesy of engineer Mike Clements. The sinuous rills and passionate stretti of the Romance movement point to the D Minor Piano Concerto. The furious ride of the Tarantelle has something of both Schubert and Liszt. Whirlwind, dervish tempos and punishing sforzati keep our ears attuned as the spirit of Balakirev seems to rise from the tumultuous geysers of sound.

Dedicated to Tchaikovsky, the First Suite (1893) appears to take an autobiographical page from that aggrieved composer’s notebook and describes a passionate love affair, using texts from various poems as programmatic sources. The G Minor gondola song echoes Chopin and Bizet in their ravishing eroticism. The two pianos’ high registers become the equivalent of an aria from Lakme. Courtship leads to consummation in the D Major second movement, La nuit. . .l’amour, Rachmaninov’s compression of Wagner’s Tristan and the St. Paul Legends of Liszt. The Tears section in G Minor invokes a four-note fate motif that comes to suggest Ravel’s Valley of Bells. The last movement, a frenetic Russian Easter, synthesizes passions religious and carnal, in no less a masterly fashion than a sonnet by John Donne. A gorgeous disc, one that reminds me how much I miss my first musical duo for this grand music, Vronsky and Babin.

– Gary Lemco




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