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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata for two pianos in D major, K448 (1781) [21:24]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantata BWV208 Schafe konnen sicher weiden 'Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd!' arr. Mary Howe for piano four-hands [4:50]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Suite No. 2 for 2 Pianos in C Major, Op. 17 (1901) [21:52]
Anton ARENSKY (1861-1906)
Suite No. 1 for 2 Pianos in F Major, Op. 15 (1890): Waltz [4:17]
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Moy Mell (An Irish Tone-Poem) (1916) [10:13]
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
Scaramouche, suite for two pianos, Op. 165b (1937) [9:22]
Phyllis Sellick (piano), Cyril Smith (piano)
rec. 1948-56
GUILD GHCD3501 [72:06]

There are two very rare recordings here in what may seem an otherwise fairly innocuous - through attractive - programme of Columbias made by Cyril Smith and Phyllis Sellick. They’d begun their career as a duo in 1937 on the suggestion of Henry Wood. By 1941 they were performing Rachmaninoff’s Suite No.2 for two pianos, which they recorded in November 1948 on three 78s. Given that Smith was then, along with Moiseiwitsch, Britain’s finest player of the Rachmaninoff concertos the results were well up to his highest standards. This well-paced and astutely structured reading reveals, most particularly in the Romance movement, that element of expressive reserve that Smith imbibed from the composer himself. And in the playful Tarantella he and Sellick show their technical command without reservation.

This recital covers the years 1948-56 when Smith suffered the terrible stroke that ended his career as a soloist. The Rachmaninoff has been released before on CD but it’s mentioned in the booklet – one should be cautious about this from a reviewer’s perspective but I can’t contradict it – that none of the other items has been issued before on silver disc. Thus, the charmingly voiced performance of Mozart’s Sonata in D major, K448 seems to be making its first appearance in this form, published in 1954 and like everything else here, in mono. The balance is also fine.

The Bach arrangement – the well-known one by Mary Howe - was originally issued on a 1951 Columbia 78 but this restoration was taken from the 1959 45rpm reissue. It’s a truly deft, beautiful performance. The Arensky Waltz was recorded at the same time as the Bach as its ‘flip side’ and is similarly transferred from the reissue.

This leaves those rare April 1956 Russian items, recorded a matter of days before Smith’s thrombosis. Bartlett and Robertson had made a stunningly good recording of Bax’s Moy Mell (The Happy Plain) on 78s – it’s now on an APR twofer devoted to the pianists – but Smith and Sellick were never to record it in London which makes the existence of this 8” 33rpm Aprelevski Plant mono vinyl disc that much more valuable. The sound is congested and rather unattractive, especially for 1956 – clearly this seems to have been more a souvenir recording than a going commercial concern – but it does show the duo’s affinities with Bax, even if Bartlett and Robertson were that much faster. Perhaps Smith and Sellick were cautious over the state of the pianos which Smith noted were ‘worn out’. Scaramouche was also recorded at the same time and it was something they had recorded on 78 – in fact when they played ‘three hands’ after Smith’s illness, Brazileira was one of their favourite encores. Again, the sound is sub-fusc but it too is a rare survivor. And it too is well worth hearing.

This admirably compiled disc has brought a raft of material new to CD in attractive transfers. Callum Ross, a student of Phyllis Sellick, has written some fine notes.

Jonathan Woolf



 




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