Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
Trois Morceaux en Forme de Poire (1903) [15:29]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Walzer, Op. 39 (1865) [20:21]
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
En la Aldea: Partes I and II (1888) [18:42]
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Souvenirs, Ballet Suite, Op. 28 (1951) [18:04]
Tonya Lemoh, Cathrine Penderup (piano four hands)
rec. Lars Heslet, Gentofte, Denmark, 2-3 November 2013
DANACORD DACOCD746 [72:38]
Erik Satie is a composer who has largely passed me by. Like many people, I know the ‘famous’ Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes and the ballet music Parade. For me, most of his piano works are still an undiscovered country. So, I was delighted to hear a performance of his wayward and eccentric Trois Morceaux en Forme de Poire. I guess the first anomaly with this work is that it is actually in ‘sept morceaux’ as opposed to the billed ‘trois’. The story goes that this piece was written in response to Claude Debussy’s remark that Satie’s music had no ‘form’. It is not a work noted for pyrotechnics, however it is full of humour, tongue-in cheek playfulness and even a hint of bitterness. It makes use of ‘cabaret’ style tunes, which is hardly surprising as Satie was working as a café pianist at the time. The listener should realise that the work ‘poire’ can also mean a ‘mug’ or a ‘dupe’ as well as the delicious fruit. The work is actually divided into two ‘movements’ - the first acting as an introduction and the second as a series of short pieces providing a retrospective to Satie’s composing career to date. It was composed in 1903.
I have long enjoyed Brahms’ Walzer, Op.39 for four hands. These were composed in January 1865, possibly inspired by Franz Schubert’s beautiful Twelve Ländler for Piano, D790. Brahms described them as ‘two books of innocent waltzes in the Schubertian form. This particular cycle is made up of sixteen miniature waltzes echoing the elder composer’s take on the genre. They owe very little to the then currently popular Johann Strauss model of various dances preceded by an introduction, separated by interludes and concluding with a coda. Brahms’ waltzes present a depth of feeling and complex mood changes that belie their simple formal structure. These pieces have a largely Viennese feel to them; there are also some Hungarian fingerprints. The performance by Lemoh and Penderup faultlessly displays their subtlety, occasional drama and ultimate charm. In short, they are magical.
Enrique Granados’s delightful En la Aldea (In the Village) was unfamiliar to me. There are two parts each containing five ‘scenes’. The titles include ‘Sunrise’, ‘Morning Prayers’, ‘Cortege’, ‘Pastoral Dance’ and ‘Sunset’. This is a substantial work lasting for nearly twenty minutes. Granados and Isaac Albeniz were in Paris during 1888 and often shared each other’s company. Seemingly, the two may have set themselves a project involving a musical representation of a visit to a French village. At this time Albeniz wrote his Fiesta de Aldea for piano. En la Aldea is noted for being the first time that Granados made use of the song of the nightingale: it occurs in ‘La Siesta’. Famously, he was to make ravishing use of this imagery in The Maiden and the Nightingale from Goyescas and also The Poet and the Nightingale in Escenas Románticas. They are thoughtfully played here, with characteristically rustic innocence, freshness and just a touch of nostalgia.
The final work on this absorbing CD is one of my personal favourites - Samuel Barber’s Souvenirs, Op.48. These six pieces were composed in 1951 for the present version of one piano, four hands. It was subsequently arranged for solo piano and also full symphony orchestra. Souvenirs was used as a ballet score by the New York Ballet under their choreographer Todd Bolender.
There are six complementary pieces that explore old dance forms that were popular around the start of the Great War. These include the opening Waltz which has all the hallmarks of genuine palm-court music. Barber has spiced this up with ‘wrong’ notes and wayward harmonies, though the original temperament still shines through. I love the Schottische which is just pure fun: it is probably a lot more dissonant than its exemplar would have been. The Pas de deux is the most profound part of this suite. This is not really a pastiche or a parody of any composer, but is romantic and introverted in a kind of universal mood. The Two-Step brightens things up and is really a mischievous romp. The Tango is all wrong in its disposition - just an occasional hint of Latin sultriness, but typically it is the popular dance ‘deconstructed’. The unfailingly tuneful Galop is a pleasure to listen to with its nods to Stravinsky. The two pianists balance the disparate elements of this fine suite - the humour, the parody, the café piano style and the dashes of modernism. It is really a little masterpiece.
Tonya Lemoh was born in Sydney, Australia. She began playing the piano at five years old and subsequently studied in Tasmania, London and Sierra Leone. At seventeen she entered the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. She has gained degrees from the University of Cincinnati, and the Royal Aarhus Conservatorium. She was staff accompanist at the Boston Conservatory between 1999 and 2001. After winning many awards she became a member of the piano faculty at the University of Copenhagen. As a pianist she has toured widely, playing concertos and giving chamber music concerts and solo recitals. Her recordings include works by Chopin, Liszt, Charles Griffes and Alberto Ginastera on ClassicO. Lemoh’s Chandos disc featuring the music of Joseph Marx was acclaimed by reviewers. For Dacapo she has recorded a selection of the piano music of Danish composer, Svend Erik Tarp.
Cathrine Penderup was also an early starter on the piano, beginning her studies aged six under Marie-Louise Ussing. She has won a string of prizes at various music competitions and festivals, including the Berlingske Music Competition, at the Academy of Music in Copenhagen and the Elsinore Music Festival. She has given recitals across Europe and Australia. Her wide-ranging repertoire includes Haydn, Messiaen and Langgaard. Recently she released albums on Danacord of featuring music by Danish Women composers and also the complete piano works of Emil Hartmann (DACOCD744-745 - review pending).
I enjoyed this CD of works for four hands on one piano. Each piece is beautifully played and skilfully interpreted. The sound quality is excellent as is to be expected from Danacord and the liner-notes give a good introduction to each work. I look forward to hearing this talented duo in the future.