STRAVINSKY Petrushka BRAHMS 16 Waltzes PIAZZOLLA 4 Tangos
Pardon the cliché, but here’s a husband-and-wife piano duo who make beautiful music together. In Stravinsky’s duet reduction of Petrushka, Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung do not attempt to replicate orchestral dynamic levels. Instead they apply their effortless synchronicity to unlocking the music’s pianistic potential, aiming for textural clarity and colouristic variety as they shape the catchy melodies with maximum lilt and characterful accentuation.
Newly minted colours, inner voices and highlighted bass-lines emerge from Brahms’s Op 39 Waltzes with minimum sustain pedal and maximum tonal imagination. True, they hold back in Nos 5 and 14, while ritards at phrase-ends and cadences grow increasingly predictable, as do No 11’s arch tenutos. Yet felicities abound, as in No 5’s uncommonly animated tempo and whimsical changes of voicing on the repeats, No 8’s gently sweeping long line (too many duos bear down on each down-beat) or the graceful reserve of Nos 7 and 16.
Although the smoky underpinnings of Piazzolla’s tango idiom usually lose their edge via classical interpreters, Bax and Chung internalise this composer’s rhythmic syntax to the point where syncopations pack an understated punch and curvaceous melodies offhandedly slip by in the manner of a master actor who knows how to throw away a good line. As I listened to Libertango’s sultry introductory pages unravel, its tempo increase, and the finale’s peroration whirl about with the utmost in controlled ardour, I wished that Piazzolla had been alive to hear it as well. Superb annotations and engineering make the Bax/Chung duo debut CD all the more auspicious.