Argerich and Babyan: Prokofiev for Two
The Romeo and Juliet transcriptions here are no mere scaling-up of the Ten Pieces Prokofiev himself produced for solo piano. In fact barely half of them refer to those reworkings. Most of the remainder are familiar from his orchestral suites, and virtually all come off so well in Sergei Babayan’s two-piano arrangements that it is hard to imagine the composer being anything but delighted.
This is as much to do with the dash and verve of the performances – vividly recorded – as with the transcriptions themselves. The Classical Symphony-derived Gavotte is done with delicious grace, and the various street scenes are thrown off with sparkling touch and vivid colours. The ‘Quarrel’, ‘Folk Dance’, ‘Dance with Mandolins’ and ‘Death of Tybalt’, all brilliantly played, would all make terrific encore pieces for any two-piano concert. Admittedly there are some over-the-top characterisations. The ‘Dance of the Knights’, for instance, sounds more like Clash of the Titans, and ‘Juliet as a Young Girl’ seems to have been taking performance enhancers. The love music at the heart of ‘Romeo and Juliet before Departure’ is about as tender as a Red Square military parade. But never mind. The dazzle factor in this pianistic display is its own justification.
The assorted dance movements that complete the disc are generally less flamboyant and therefore less immediately communicative, though the waltz from War and Peace is certainly imposing in its grandeur and the ‘Idée fixe’ from The Queen of Spades is appropriately eerie and obsessive. Presumably to have added any more movements from Romeo and Juliet would have upset the balance and coherence of the set as presented. But so vividly do Babayan’s transcriptions leap off the page that I doubt if I would have raised any objection.