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Anton ARENSKY (1861-1906)
Five Suites for Two Pianos
Suite no.1, op.15 (1890) [13:13]
Silhouettes (Suite no.2), op.23 (1892) [15:30]
Variations (Suite no.3), op.33 [25:53]
Suite no.4, op.62 [13:57]
Children's Suite, op.15 (Suite no.5) [11:13]
Piano Duo Genova and Dimitrov
rec. SWF Baden-Baden, Germany, 17-19 November 2010. DDD
CPO 777 651-2 [79:56]

The 'five suites for two pianos' headline is a curious one. For a start, Arensky wrote only four, as previous recordings of this corner of his oeuvre indicate - though the now deleted Marco Polo 8.223497 also had all five. The fifth is in fact a work Arensky called the 'Children's Suite' op.65, which he wrote not for two pianos but for four hands at one. Whether or not Aglika Genova and Liuben Dimitrov play it here at a single keyboard or two is not entirely clear from either the stereo audio or the accompanying booklet.
However, without significant score alterations it is highly unlikely that the four two-piano suites could be played at a single keyboard, yet CPO's resident translator has them "here united on one instrument". The original German is admittedly ambiguous: "hier in einem Klangkörper vereint" - literally, 'together here in one (instrumental) body (of sound)'. Bulgarians Genova and Dimitrov have previously recorded a four-hands disc for CPO (999 848-2), but to do so under the title of the present disc would be perverse. The assumption must be that they play all five suites as advertised, on two pianos.
Genova and Dimitrov already have several CDs for CPO to their credit, widely well received. In Arensky - better transcribed as Aryensky - they give typically assertive, persuasive accounts of these frequently virtuosic works, communicating smoothly and confidently with each other and with expression and warmth with the listener. They are soberly elegant, tastefully light-hearted, metronomically paced, texturally transparent. Arensky's unerring ability to write tunefully articulate, imaginatively idiomatic music is effectively underlined by the technique and enthusiasm of such advocates.
Overall this is a full-length recording of tremendous entertainment value and lyrical invention that goes well beyond salon music. Arensky rarely sounds very Russian. Though Tchaikovsky's influence lurks thereabouts, in the piano suites he is more likely to be taken for a French composer - most likely Saint-Saëns or, especially in the Fourth - and with apologies to Poland - Chopin.
Sound quality is very good. CPO's booklets are unique in their combination of dense, detailed notes in shaky translations; for this disc the information is somewhat sparser but the English version of the German notes is reasonably idiomatic. Odd phrases like "great geniuses of world history like Peter Tchaikovsky" must be ascribed rather to Evgeny Barankin's rhetorical German original. The Duo's biographies are comically interspersed with one-liners ("A Genuine Delight!" - "Brilliant Keyboard Magic!") from international reviews.
Pianophiles who have inexplicably failed hitherto to acquire a disc of Arensky's music for two pianos will find this disc the ideal way to make amends.
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