BRAHMS; DVOŘÁK; GRIEG Music for Piano Four Hands
These are two distinguished artists so I hesitate to say it, but this recording made me extremely grumpy. For a number of reasons. First, the piano used for this programme of 22 duets is a straight-strung 1870 Bechstein grand chosen, so Immerseel tells us in the booklet, because such instruments ‘usually sound much more transparent and noticeably clearer in the bass than their (modern) over-strung equivalents’. Certainly, it is nearly always interesting from a historical perspective to hear music performed on a contemporary instrument, but I simply don’t like the sound of this particular Bechstein with its penetrating, insistent treble and mumbling, indistinct bass, both of which seem unevenly voiced right through the register.
Secondly, the duo play Nos 11 to 21 (books 3 and 4 from 1880, not so identified on the cover) of Brahms’s Hungarian Dances. There were numerous examples in the 1960s of pop groups having enjoyed a number one hit and then being asked by their record companies to cash in with a follow-up in the same vein. The successor was never as good and was quickly forgotten. These Dances are Brahms’s equivalent. The collection is not on the same level as Nos 1 to 10 (books 1 and 2 from 1869), often repeating and relying on the same gestures and figurations. I am not saying books 3 and 4 should never be played because they are inferior to the earlier set, but they should certainly be cherry-picked – and the customer informed.
Then there’s the second of the three Grieg Dances. Where is the lilting charm of this innocent little piece? Why so gruff in the central section? And why are the Slavonic Dances so heavy-handed and joyless? Listening to the treble jabs in ‘Sousedská’ (No 4 in F major), one longs for it to end. And as for the famous ‘Furiant’ (No 8 in G minor), it is marked presto, not a leisurely moderato. Finally, why is there a picture of Janáček on the cover?