Transcriptions for Two Pianists
A couple of years after the centenary of the infamous first performance of The Rite of Spring we have a spate of recordings of Stravinsky’s piano four-hands version. What a fly-on-the-wall moment it must have been when he first introduced Diaghilev and his fellow Ballets Russes minions to what was soon to become the most iconic ballet of the 20th century. Still, it has to be asked whether this ersatz version – produced for study rehearsal purposes – has any more than documentary or practical value.
My first experience of the two-piano option was many years ago from Peter Donohoe and Martin Roscoe, and this is how I’ve performed the work myself. The two-piano format has the obvious advantages of liberating the players technically, since it’s impossible to create a quasi-orchestral range of colour when competing physically for the middle range on a single keyboard. It also means that the numerous places where Stravinsky was forced to adapt or omit crucial layers of the texture can be corrected and/or enhanced.
First and foremost, François-Frédéric Guy and Jean-Efflam Bavouze know how much, or rather how little, the folk-based material can be bent before the idiom is lost. Then they have really done their homework in terms of the instruments at their disposal. True, there are different and further options to the ones they take. But the colours, dynamics and textural finesse of this performance, enhanced by superbly lifelike recording, are breathtaking. The couplings here are Bavouzet’s resourceful transcription of Debussy’s Jeux and Zoltán Kocsis’s of Bartók’s Two Pictures. More brilliant playing here, though whether either transcription will catch on with other pianistic teams is an open question.