Classical CD Reviews

Long Duo – Concertos for Two Pianos and Orchestra = Works of VAUGHAN WILLIAMS; HARL McDONALD; DANA SUESSE – Beatrice & Christina Long, pianos/ Eskisehir Greater Municipality Sym./ Patrick Souillot – Sono Luminus

The repertory of this unusual disc is a much-needed contribution to the piano concerto literature.

Published on May 8, 2011

Long Duo – Concertos for Two Pianos and Orchestra = Works of VAUGHAN WILLIAMS; HARL McDONALD; DANA SUESSE – Beatrice & Christina Long, pianos/ Eskisehir Greater Municipality Sym./ Patrick Souillot – Sono Luminus

Long Duo in Concertos for Two Pianos and Orchestra = VAUGHAN WILLIAMS:  Concerto in C; HARL McDONALD: Concerto; DANA SUESSE: Concerto in E minor – Beatrice & Christina Long, pianos/ Eskisehir Greater Municipality Symphony Orchestra/ Patrick Souillot – Sono Luminus DSL-92129, 68:37 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

A most unusual and welcome disc. The repertory is a much-needed contribution to the piano concerto literature. The Vaughan Williams is infrequently heard and the other two must be receiving their first recordings here and fully deserve them.  Then we come to the two-piano team, two sisters from Taiwan who will be unknown to most, and the very obscure Turkish Orchestra.  Unfortunately while the sisters are superb performers, the orchestra does an often haphazard job backing them up, or this CD would definitely get five stars.

Vaughan Williams created his concerto for a single piano in the Twenties.  In 1946 he revised it for the duo-piano team of Cyril Smith and Phyllis Sellick, and that’s when they premiered the work. It is more dissonant and daring than most Vaughan Williams works and probably the least English-sounding of any of his opera. The last of its three movements is a massive fugue with plenty of clashes of the two pianos and orchestra. The work has been recorded by Broadway and Markham with Yehudi Menuhin conducting, and is likely to be preferred over this CD, but the two other concertos are unique and fascinating to hear.

Harl McDonald was a music professor and also manager of the Philadelphia Orchestra, which made it easier to get his music performed and recorded. I recall having had 78s of works by both McDonald and Suesse.  The orchestra premiered his two-piano concerto in 1936. McDonald was called by a music critic “As American as Pike’s Peak.” He tried to express musically his inner impressions of things from which he gets emotional reactions. His concerto mixes the usual dialog between the pianos and the orchestra with a tonal fabric in which the pianos become part of the orchestra.  The work’s finale is a Juarezca – a Mexican dance similar to those the composer heard during his youth in California.

Dana Suesse was well-known in the 1930s – primarily due to her association with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. In fact there is a photo of her with Whiteman and George Gershwin which lends credence to some critics referring to her as the female Gershwin.  She had studied composition with Rubin Goldmark, who also taught Gershwin. She was interested in popular music and jazz and the public loved the full rich chords and syncopation in her works. Her two-piano concerto is in four movements, with a striking Scherzo third movement. It has some fine melodies and occasionally sounds like film score music.

Sonics are first rate and the detailed note booklet is interesting reading about all three composers and the works heard.

– John Sunier




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