Christina & Michelle Naughton: Visions
Four years after their impressive debut release on Orfeo, the twin-sister piano duo Christina and Michelle Naughton begin a relationship with Warner Classics on an audacious note, or, more accurately, in a veritable avalanche of notes via Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen. After all, this is a challenging work packed with textural thickets and deceptively tricky rhythms, yet few duos can resist its potential for sonorous splendour and wide ranging tone-colour.
Just about everything comes together in this recording. The Naughton twins don’t take the opening movement’s très lent directive at face value (the composer and his wife Yvonne Loriod were similarly speedy!), but they pull you in with their assiduously gradual, painstakingly incremental dynamic build-up. No 2’s declamatory octaves and pedal-enveloped chords line up in ideal foreground/background perspective, although the second piano’s long opening solo doesn’t distinguish the articulations to the degree heard in the Osborne-Roscoe, Oppens-Lowenthal and Serkin-Takahashi recordings.
However, No 3’s accented antiphonal chords are seamlessly synchronised. No 4’s slow sections have an attractive lilting quality that helps propel the music forwards, while a graceful, slightly understated rendition of the long second piano solo downplays the music’s tawdry, sickly sweet underbelly (I usually can’t hear this without wincing). The duo also make No 7’s ecstatic bells and whistles less heavy and pompous than usual, simply by playing the music fast and lightly.
György Kurtág’s four-hand arrangement of Bach’s Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit follows as a welcome palate cleanser, but why isn’t Kurtág credited in the booklet-notes or content listings? Lastly, John Adams’s Hallelujah Junction features nicely pointed canonic interplay and discreet pedalling, qualities that bring out the music’s inherently balletic nature. Clear and carefully balanced engineering further seals an enthusiastic recommendation.