Belle Époque (Berlinskaya & Ancelle)
In the March 2017 issue it was a pleasure to give a warm welcome to a recital from this husband-and-wife duo featuring the first recording of Saint-Saëns’s arrangement for two pianos of Liszt’s mighty B minor Sonata. They follow this with a second highly engaging and resourceful two-piano programme.
Cécile Chaminade’s boisterous Valse carnavalesque sets the scene. Why don’t more two-piano teams feature this and the two short suites of movements that succeed it? The first is a genial early work by Charles Koechlin (1867-1950, pupil of Massenet and Fauré, teacher of Poulenc), the second the premiere recording of a piece by Louis Aubert, a fine pianist in his day (1877-1968), the dedicatee of Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, whose 1900 Suite brève is characterised by the booklet writer as ‘involuntary anticipation of Ravel’s neoclassic piano opuses’.
Then comes Reynaldo Hahn’s suite of 12 (mainly brief) waltzes with the charming title of Le ruban dénoué (‘The unravelled ribbon’). Those familiar with Hahn’s songs and chamber music will know what to expect. Despite the fact that the music was written in 1915, there is nothing of the First World War, Schoenberg or Stravinsky (‘I am not crediting them with greater musical value than they have’, wrote Hahn) but the bitter-sweet melancholy of Hahn’s undemanding melodies acknowledges that La belle époque was over. Other composers make fleeting appearances (Godowsky, for one, and even Sullivan in ‘Il sorriso’).
Debussy’s En blanc et noir (also from 1915) completes the recital. Here the war is referred to both obliquely and directly in all three movements, given a bold and characterful outing by the Russian duo, their tempos consistently faster than the wonderful Tal and Groethuysen on their disc entitled ‘1915’ (Sony Classical) as they also nearly always are in Le ruban dénoué. But there really is little to choose between the two duos as far as the balance between the pianos, their voicing and the recorded sound are concerned.