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Sound Samples & Downloads

French Piano Four-Hands with the Elegant Erard (1877)
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Petite Suite (1889) [12 :51]
Six Epigraphes Antiques (1914) [14 :39]
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Jeux d’enfants, Op. 38 (1871) [10 :22]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Ma mère L’Oye (1910) [15:04]
Gabriel FAURE (1845-1924)
Dolly Suite, Op. 56 (1896) [14 :06]
The Transcontinental Piano Duo (Elaine Greenfield and Janice Meyer Thompson)
rec. 4-7 June 2009, Ashburnham Community Church, Ashburnham, Massachusetts, U.S.A
CENTAUR CRC3071 [67 :25]

Experience Classicsonline

Here is an American piano duo in familiar French four-hand repertoire. The performances are highly proficient from a technical point of view. A pianist I know talks about the “four-hand syndrome”, by which she means that ensemble between the two players is frequently imperfect. There are only a very few examples of this in this recital. But for this listener these performances crucially lack the very elements that make these pieces attractive. Much of Debussy’s Petite Suite is just too loud, for example. The fourth movement, “Ballet”, is peppered with piano and pianissimo markings, but you really wouldn’t know it from this performance. Nor does the phrasing seem very affectionate or tender. Bizet’s piece fares better, but then the music is more robust and can stand this kind of approach. Even so, the final movement, “Bal”, is boisterous and high-spirited as it should be, but where is the fun? I’ve heard performances of Ravel’s Mother Goose that have brought out more tenderness than is in evidence here. The transformation of the Beast in the fourth piece, for example, is rather glossed over. But the work is admirably paced, and the beautiful final movement, in particular, is perfectly judged and very successful. It’s a pleasure to find Debussy’s Six Epigraphes Antiques (not “Epigraphs” as the booklet has it) included in the programme. This work, most of which was probably composed well before 1914, is rather more challenging for the listener than the rest of the collection, and receives a successful performance here. The more brilliant moments work particularly well, but I have never seen the score, so my feelings that, once again, the playing is often a notch or two above the marked dynamics can only be a suspicion. What is certain is that there is more fun in the final piece, a thank you to the morning rain, than these players find. The first movement of Fauré’s Dolly is rhythmically rigid and matter of fact. Where is the soft, caressing quality the music demands? It is a lullaby, after all.
I’m sorry not to react more positively to these performances, but there is no doubt that Laurence Fromentin and Dominique Plancard, in an almost identical programme on EMI, bring more tenderness, affection and fun to these pieces. To complicate matters, the title of the disc makes plain that the unique feature of this issue is the instrument, a beautifully restored Erard of 1877. Authentic it is, then, though it should be pointed out that this particular piano, described as an “extra-grand modèle de concert” is probably not the kind of thing the composers would have had next to their desks. One is immediately struck by the very particular sound, but the ear soon adjusts. Others, perhaps more committed to authenticity for its own sake than I am, will judge for themselves, but I am sceptical about the booklet annotator’s claim that this instrument “offers wonderful insights into the colors and expressive demands of the music by bringing the listener into the original sound world of the composers.” And then I can’t help thinking, just as I sometimes do about Bach and the trumpet – near-heresy this, hardly to be spoken out loud – that authentic though it be, how these composers would have been thrilled to hear their music on a modern piano!

William Hedley
French four-hand piano music on a French piano of the period. I’m sorry not to react more positively to these performances.















































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