Stravinsky Ballets for Piano Duet

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Stravinsky
The Firebird [three movements, arranged Philip Moore]
Petrushka [three movements]
The Rite of Spring [the composer’s version for piano/four hands]

Philip Moore & Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano duet)

Recorded June 2002 in St George’s, Bristol


Reviewed by: Julian Maynard-Smith

Reviewed: March 2007
CD No: DEUX-ELLES DXL 1081
Duration: 63 minutes

This is the first recording to encompass these three Stravinsky ballets – all written for the impresario Diaghilev – in versions for piano duet (piano/four hands). The Rite of Spring is given complete (in the composer’s ‘blueprint’ form) while Petrushka and The Firebird are excerpted, the latter having been transcribed for this medium by Philip Moore.

In his booklet note, Moore states that his guiding principle in undertaking such a task “… was that as far as possible the musical texture should be split into its constituent parts and these then divided between the pianists, so that each player is following complete musical lines, thereby engendering a free, impulsive performance in the true spirit of chamber music.”

In this aim Moore has been successful – the three movements from The Firebird have a propulsive energy and no audible seams. If it was not for the sheer complexity of the textures, admirably lucid as recorded, you could be forgiven for thinking you were hearing one pianist.

The full palette of the orchestra may be reduced to the black and white of the piano’s keys, yet Moore and Simon Crawford-Phillips – with their cleanly articulated and vigorous playing, full of sensitive dynamics – provide coloration in abundance. ‘The Infernal Dance of King Kashchei’, for example, ranges from clipped aggression to airy joy, before a tumultuous climax that subsides into weariness and melancholia, segueing perfectly into a haunting and suitably nocturnal ‘Lullaby’.

The three movements from ‘Petrushka’ are equally sparkling and energised. With the vigorous descending run at the end of ‘Shrovetide Fair’, one can imagine that the Old Wizard has forced the puppet Petrushka to spin into a final Dervish-like dance, before letting it collapse in an exhausted heap.

It is with The Rite of Spring that the shift from orchestra to piano is perhaps most dramatic. The biting dissonance and jagged time-signature shifts are starkly illuminated, a reminder of just how shocking this seminal work must have sounded to its first audience at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in 1913. It’s not all anguished Russianness; there are moments of quietness and contemplation, although even the pianissimo passages occasionally sound full of suppressed fury.

Since first performing together in 1995, Moore and Crawford-Phillips have picked up prizes and praise alike and – judging by their performances on this disc – deservedly so.

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