Hampstead and Highgate Festival 2010 – Opening Concert

Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Schumann, arr. Debussy
Canonic Studies, Op.56
Daphnis et Chloé – Suite No.2 [arr. Leon Roques]
Rhythmic Dance
The Rite of Spring

Simon Crawford-Philips & Philip Moore (pianos)

Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel

Reviewed: 24 September, 2010
Venue: Hampstead Parish Church (St John-at-Hampstead), Church Row, London NW3

The theme of this year’s re-timed Hampstead and Highgate Festival (Danny Driver the new artistic director) is “Inspired by Diaghilev” with concerts and events to celebrate the founder of Ballets Russes. Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky all had a direct connection to the great Russian impresario. Eugene Goossens was a contemporary of these three composers and was strongly influenced by them. The Schumann studies were arranged by Debussy.

Making a piano transcription at the same time as the orchestral score used to be commonplace. Nevertheless it’s not often that the piano versions of these famous works get an outing, and whilst they don’t usurp their orchestral cousins they are rarely outshone, given performances that do them justice.

Simon Crawford-Philips and Philip Moore have built up a rapport as a duo over the past 15 years and this was immediately evident in their playing of the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un Faune. With the orchestral version so deeply embedded in the mind it’s impossible to think that a stripped-down arrangement can come close to matching it. Such were the wide range of colouring and subtle nuances conjured by Moore and Crawford-Philips that one could almost declare this a worthy alternative to its more illustrious counterpart.

Debussy made the four-hand arrangement of the Schumann Studies almost half-a-century after they were composed (1845). They were originally composed for the Pedal Fugel, a forgotten instrument of the 19th-century. The Studies themselves are amongst Schumann’s least-known works but there have been recordings using the pedal-piano and the organ. Debussy fashioned these short pieces into delightful miniatures which sound as if they could have been originally composed for the piano. These intimate, tuneful pieces were beautifully brought to life by Crawford-Philips and Moore whose delicate shading and lightness of touch captured the contrasting moods delightfully.

Leon Roques’s adaptation of the Second Suite of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé inevitability loses the scale of the orchestral score. Whilst there’s plenty of scope for dynamic contrasts and exotic textures there’s no escaping a loss of sensuousness in ‘Lever du jour’ shorn of ravishing string tone and wordless choir. Crawford-Philips (swapping roles as first pianist here) uncovered a sense of mystery in the ‘Pantomine’ episode, and the accumulation of tension was thrilling in the closing bacchanal without ever lapsing into banging or thumping.

The influence of Debussy and Ravel is felt in the Rhythmic Dance by Eugene Goossens, written originally in 1920 for the pianola and later arranged for two pianos. This entertaining three-minute piece is full of infectious rhythms and perky melodies, and given a suitably lively reading.

Stravinsky’s own two-piano version of The Rite of Spring was conceived at the same time as the orchestral score. Stripped back even further to its essentials The Rite can sound even more brutal and dissonant but here Moore and Crawford-Philips seemed more concerned with texture and transparency rather than out-and-out violence. With measured tempos there was less excitement than some versions but the up-side was fine control of dynamics and some passages of real atmosphere such as the ‘Introduction to Part 2’.

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