Suite No.1 for two pianos, Op.5 (Fantaisie-tableaux)
Suite No.2 for two pianos, Op.17
Emanuel Ax & Yefim Bronfman (pianos)
CD No: SONY CLASSICAL SK 61767 Duration: Reviewed: March 2002
Rachmaninov music for 2 pianos
Reviewed by Ying Chang
These performances are unusually restrained, as if the musicians were reluctant to give way to too much emotion. Ax plays piano 1 in the First Suite, and the melting Barcarole that opens this, with its fine control of feeling, provides for me the sweetest and best moment on the disc. Bronfman plays piano 1 in the remainder of the pieces, and perhaps his renowned virtuosity gets the better of him I looked for more fantasy in these interpretations, something that strayed from simply being impeccable ensemble, and horses jumping fences in their stride.
Take the Symphonic Dances with which the CD opens. Noon is solid, stolid even and generally foursquare, and though Twilight conveys a sense of mystery, it also drags. Where one hopes for the music to take flight, one frequently finds an earth-bound heaviness, as in the Waltz and Tarantella of the Second Suite, or a hectoring rhetoric, as with Russian Easter that concludes Fantaisie-tableaux. In the slow movements, the performers seem to concentrate on the musics sheer scale rather than the variation of detail and nuance that the many notes allow.
While the symphonic scale of the pieces (after all the Dances are more familiar in their orchestral version) are powerfully conveyed, the same cannot be said in terms of warmth its difficult to feel that Twilight and Midnight are part of Rachmaninovs compositional swansong.
Sony Classicals part in this disc is exemplary. The presentation is attractive, arty and piano-themed (some pages are set out in black and white, like piano keys) without being precious, with interesting notes and a translation of the Epigraphs to Op.5. One might say, indeed, that the notes make more of Rachmaninovs romanticism than do the performers. The recording, as ever from Sony, is clean and clear, and has made allowance for the bigger sound of two pianos over one.
It goes without saying that Ax and Bronfman make easy work of the technical and intellectual demands of this repertoire. But though Rachmaninovs is heroic music, these performances are somewhat stiff and need their hearts worn a little more on their sleeves. We expect everything from artists of this stature and, in particular that they rise above the routine. In this case, it is as if the sheer difficulties of the works made the performers feel exempt from adding more personality, that sense of danger and immediacy that is so present in, say, Argerichs duo performances.