ARENSKY Suites for Two Pianos
The 150th anniversary of the birth of Anton Arensky passed by all but unnoticed last year. To make amends, here is a captivating disc of his four suites for two pianos, the first release on this new label founded by the two pianists.
Suite No 2, Silhouettes (1892), consists of five character pieces; Suite No 3, Variations (1894), the longest of the four, is a theme and (nine highly diverse and diverting) variations – try Var 4, a delicious musical box evocation, and Var 6, a gossamer-light Scherzo, superbly dispatched by Lavrova and Primakov. Suite No 4 (1901) is the most harmonically adventurous of the four while still tinged with nostalgia and which, in the finale, looks back to Arensky’s idol, Chopin.
Suite No 1 (1890) contains the composer’s best-known piece, the second-movement Waltz, memorably recorded by Ossip Gabrilowitsch and Harold Bauer in 1929. It’s one of the classics of the gramophone. Lavrova and Primakov come as close as any I have heard to equalling its charm, elegance and unruffled virtuosity. These are qualities that characterise the disc as a whole and make it preferable to the Hyperion release of exactly the same programme recorded back in 1994 by the excellent Stephen Coombs and Ian Munro, on which the two pianos are recorded in a more resonant acoustic, one that rather complements the pianists’ more strident, hard-driven approach.
Alternating between suites from Piano 1 to Piano 2 (two Yamaha CFX grands), Lavrova and Primakov are in perfect accord temperamentally and musically. I wish their enterprise well.