Bartlett & Robertson: Selected recordings 1927-1947
Here is that ideal post Christmas present – a box of delights if ever there was one. APR’s two-disc album is an admirable reminder of the achievement of Tobias Matthay’s students and of the once-legendary duo of Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robertson. The recordings date from 1927 to 1947 and range from Bach and Elizabethan music to Debussy’s late masterpiece En blanc et noir, taking in en route 19th-century sparklers (their witty reworking of Liszt’s ‘La campanella’ is enough to set even the finest solo version by the ears) and visits to Cuba and Spain. Throughout, Bartlett and Robertson exhibit a dazzling assurance and unanimity, the result of players trained in the same technique, allowing them quicksilver responses and an imaginative freedom unknown to lesser duos. Not for them the nervous dread of the studio’s green light, something to cause a freezing-up of a natural musical impulse, but rather an opportunity to offer all the relish and daring of a live performance.
Hear them as they seize the chance to elaborate Liszt’s Liebestraum No 3 with lavish harmonies and ornaments, or the way in the Arensky Waltz they send their dancers spinning across the ballroom in an endless pattern of glittering arabesques. How they revel, too, in Lecuona’s Malagueña (a show-stopper forever associated with spangled jugglers and circus figures); and if they hardly eclipse recordings of Debussy’s En blanc et noir by Argerich and Kovacevich or by Robert and Gaby Casadesus, they capture much of its desolating spell. They are less successful in Granados’s ‘The Maiden and the Nightingale’, where they sound out of sorts, adopting the musical equivalent of the chilled accents of the time. But their affection for Bax is never in doubt; for them his music is not a moment too long. APR’s superb presentation includes several fine photographs, and Stephen Siek’s notes are a mine of information.