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Harrington
American Record Guide, April 2007

"During the summer of 1942 in Beverly Hills, two of the world's greatest pianists lived close to each other and gave some private two ­piano concerts for family and friends. First­hand accounts of these concerts describe the joy and emotional power conveyed by the artists: 69-year-old Rachmaninoff and 39-year­old Horowitz. They performed Suite 2 and gave the first performance of the two-piano Symphonic Dances. It would have been a recording for all time if it had ever been made."

"Donohoe and Roscoe add their interpretations to the ranks of so many other great performances. They have a complete grasp of these works and display a wide variety of touch and color that projects the many contrasting movements. The finales of each work are in the same vein as Rachmaninoff's concertos, and they miss none of the excitement and virtuosity. I was immediately impressed with the Naxos piano sound: clear and full bodied, with great detail. I don't prefer a distant homogenous two-piano sound. I like what we have here: a close-up recording that allows one to easily identify the two piano parts. I would like a bit more brilliance in the sound of the Dances and Suite 2. This was granted in Suite I, recorded two years before and in a different location. The works are presented here in reverse chronological order, which gives one a new outlook on these staples of two-piano literature. At full price this would be a solid choice among its stellar competition. At the Naxos price, it is a steal."



Richard A. Kaplan
Fanfare, April 2007

"Who would have guessed, when Naxos entered the CD market with buckets of budget-priced recordings by no-name instrumentalists and provincial Eastern-European orchestras, that 20 years later they would be offering the likes of this disc, featuring two of Britain's most distinguished and widely recorded pianists in the major two-piano works of Rachmaninoff? The result is an hour and a quarter of first-rate music-making, and probably the finest single-disc version of the suites that I have heard.

The high point of this program is the Suite No.2, surely the most ebullient piece Rachmaninoff ever wrote. This work was composed simultaneously with the Second Concerto, marking Rachmaninoff’s triumph over his compositional paralysis in the wake of the First Symphony debacle. The opening Alla marcia is high-spirited; the Valse a rhythmic and technical tour de force, with its constant three-against-two hemiola patterns and its fiendish passages in parallel thirds between the two pianos; the third-movement Romance is some of Rachmaninoff’s most beautiful love music; and the final Tarantelle is exhilarating. Donohoe and Roscoe are technically secure and musically sensitive throughout, and they meet the exacting requirements of the two-piano medium with seeming ease. It's a thoroughly enjoyable performance.

The First Suite was written in 1893, when Rachmaninoff was 20. It is not as mature a work as the opera Aleko or the First Concerto, written around the same time, but it has its own beauties, especially if you can tolerate heavy portions of schmaltz. The Symphonic Dances, Rachmaninoff s final work and a full-fledged masterpiece, is played in the composer's own arrangement, but the two-piano version always strikes me a bit like watching Gone with the Wind in black-and-white. (In a Classical Hall of Fame write-up of The Bells in Fanfare 29:2, I referred to Rachmaninoff as perhaps the century's most underrated orchestrator, a claim I stand by here.) As in the Second Suite, the playing of both works is first-rate; the sound is excellent, with just the right amount of stereo separation to enjoy the constant interplay between the two instruments....You can't go wrong with this excellent disc."



Colin Clarke
MusicWeb International, February 2007

The coupling of Peter Donohoe and Martin Roscoe is an inspired one. Both players have superb techniques and a truly innate musicality. Both, it appears, also love Rachmaninov, for these performances are suffused with dedication.

The disc opens with the Symphonic Dances. This is a late work. It is interesting how the sound of its better-known orchestral guise seems intrinsically linked to the composer's scoring; yet heard in the two-piano version it nevertheless sounds perfectly idiomatic. Having listened recently to Reference Recording's disc entitled Symphonic Dances (RR-105, Utah Symphony under Keith Lockhart and coupled with the Bernstein West Side Story Dances and Gabriella Lena Frank's Three Latin American Dances), where colours are heard in their brightest garb, it is something of a relief to encounter Donohoe and Roscoe. In particular, the shadowy Waltz of the second movement comes off well. Inevitably, perhaps, the 'sighs' that open the finale cannot have the same effect as the orchestral version - the piano simply cannot achieve the requisite connectivity between notes. Yet even here Donohoe and Roscoe achieve the requisite excitement later on.

The two Suites deserve greater currency. They most recently cropped up on a tremendous three-disc set by Madeleine Forte and Del Parkinson on Roméo Records 7252-4. The Naxos version puts Suite No. 2 first - so the disc playing order is reverse chronological order! The 'Alla Marcia' first movement is rather polite - one spends one's time admiring the neat staccato - while the Presto Valse chugs along nicely, both players being models of clean articulation. Delicate and sensitive, the Romance leads to a headlong finale.

The first Suite is a sequence of fantasias and elicits the finest performance by far on the disc. The initial Barcarolle is fluid, while the evocatively titled 'La nuit … l'amour' is dark and perfectly judged. Rachmaninov's famous bells make an appearance in the beautiful third movement, 'Les larmes'; the finale has a headlong momentum. A shame the recording is just a touch clangorous here, though.

This is a real bargain at the price and a testament to the stature of two of the UK's best pianists. It would be good to hear more of this coupling of talent from this source. The recording dates indicate these performances have been in the can for some while. I wonder what else lurks in there?



Tim Perry
MusicWeb International, January 2007

With the successes of his ever-growing list of British piano concerto recordings for Naxos fresh in our minds, it is easy to forget that Peter Donohoe first made his reputation as a an interpreter of Russian music. He shared the second prize at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1982 when no first prize was awarded. His early discography for EMI included a set of Rachmaninov’s 24 preludes, a disc of Prokofiev’s war sonatas, and recordings of Tchaikovsky’s piano concertos - including an award-winning account of the sprawling second piano concerto, complete and uncut - all of which have been long deleted although the piano concertos have been restored on a Gemini issue.

For many years, Donohoe has formed a regular piano duo with Martin Roscoe, also a fabulous and versatile pianist in his own right and one of Hyperion’s stars. The maturity of their partnership and their instinctive understanding of each other’s musical thoughts is evident on this disc. More delicate and finely nuanced readings of these pieces are very hard to find.

The disc charts a course back in time through Rachmaninov’s composing career. It opens with the brooding and enigmatic Symphonic Dances. Though better known in its orchestral guise, this two piano version of this late work is no mere transcription or reduction. Rachmaninov prepared it from the short score for his own use in concert with Horowitz as his duo partner.If you love this piece, you owe it to yourself to hear this alternative version.

The first movement, which begins with quiet chattering, is soon launched by powerful left hands, firm fingers shaping the melodic line in the right hand of the lead pianist (Donohoe or Roscoe?). The bell-like passage that leads into the “saxophone” melody is hushed, and the melody itself gentle, reflective and genuinely beautiful, allowed to flow naturally by Roscoe and Donohoe. There are some gorgeous washes of notes here. When the music builds again it is a little understated at first but rises to a mighty climax. The little bell sounds just before the ten minute mark are beguiling, and the final bars tease. The second movement begins with ringing chords and a light treatment of the uneasy waltz. Donohoe and Roscoe present this movement as disconcerting rather than terrifying.There is a rare lightness to the final movement too, with more bell sonorities from the right hands of both pianists and power and drive where called for. The duo preserve a sense of mystery and are subtle in their treatment of the Dies Irae references. All up, this is a very satisfying performance.

Stepping back in time forty years, the second suite shows Rachmaninov finding his own voice as a composer, though the influence of Tchaikovsky and, to an extent, Chopin, can still be heard.; There is grandeur in the introductory march to the second suite, and the valse moves at a good clip, with sudden gushes of romantic fancy. There is some fire in the finale too, with deep ringing sonorities from the lower end of the second keyboard. Great stuff.

The contrast with the dreamy mist of the Barcarolle that opens the first suite is pronounced. The reflective internal movements slip by like fallen leaves carried on the surface of a languid stream. The finale has a grunt and thrust, emphatic in pointing up the bell sounds that Rachmaninov loved so much, even at this early stage. This is not top drawer Rachmaninov, but comes off very well here in all of its Tchaikovskian sweetness and melancholy.

The recorded sound is immediate and bright, with one piano in each channel, though the venue for the recording of the first suite has a harsher edge to its acoustic. Keith Anderson’s liner notes, as usual, are concise and helpful.

This disc comes into direct competition with a Hyperion Helios disc I reviewed just over a year ago. The key difference between the two discs is the order of the pieces, Hyperion offering chronology to Naxos’ reverse chronology.

Roscoe and Donohoe turn in the better performance of the first suite, but the honours are pretty evenly split in the second. Both accounts of the Symphonic Dances are superb. Donohoe and Roscoe are wonderfully pianistic. Their playing has grace and delicacy, every phrase subtly shaped, the structure of each movement weighed and measured. Their approach is very different to that of Shelley and McNamara, who are much more symphonic in their thinking. They hit the keys harder, and swoon with greater fantasy. Their playing is more brash, especially in the final movement. It is also a little rougher around the edges, but that roughness brings with it greater intensity and a sense of danger. Shelly and McNamara are gripping, while Donohoe and Roscoe mesmerise.

If pressed to pick between these two discs, the new Naxos CD would have a slight edge, because of its superior recorded sound, marginally lower price tag and exquisite first suite. However, as much as I admire Donohoe and Roscoe in the Symphonic Dances, I would be loathe to be without the fire and excitement of Shelley and McNamara. At budget price you can afford to buy both.






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4:49:27 PM, 29 January 2015
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