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James Harrington
American Record Guide, January 2011

This is the second release from TwoPianists to come my way, and it is as exceptional as the first (Rachmaninoff, 103903, Nov/Dec 2010 - review). Two releases may not be quite enough to officially declare a major new duo talent, but from everything Luis Magalhães and Nina Schumann (husband and wife) have recorded, they are. Their precise ensemble is complemented by interpretational decisions that make anything they do come alive and remain continually interesting. The repertoire in the current program shows a curiosity to explore new and rare works, which is clearly backed by their excellent judgement to select only those items worthy of their (and our) time.

Brahms’s name on the cover of any two-piano recording makes me immediately expect the Haydn Variations or the Hungarian Dances, or possibly the Piano Quintet as arranged by Brahms. I was surprised to find a two-piano arrangement of his Paganini Variations done by Romanian conductor Constantin Silvestri. The well-known bristling difficulties in these variations are skillfully tossed back and forth between the pianists, often doubled an octave higher or lower. Accompaniment patterns are expanded and fleshed out, making for the kind of orchestral textures that can be found in the Haydn Variations. The duo’s clarity and precision make you think it is only one pianist, but the additional sonority and extra notes make for a tour de force.

Then there is an edge-of-your-seat performance of Lutosławski’s brilliant setting of Paganini’s original Caprice with 11 variations and a coda. It should be noted here that Liszt simply translated the original to the piano. He added harmony and pianistic figurations, but kept to the exact format of the original. Lutosławski adds two-piano figurations in a much more contemporary harmonic language. Brahms (and later Rachmaninoff) took the original theme and wrote completely new sets of variations on it.

People familiar with Rachmaninoff’s great two-piano works should enjoy the two Arensky suites. He was Rachmaninoff’s teacher, so it is hardly a surprise that his two 15-minute suites would share a common musical language with the Rachmaninoff works. These are a real find, and given the performances here, might just creep into recital programs more often, especially as a warmup to one of the Rachmaninoff Suites.

The program ends with Bernstein’s superb two-piano arrangement of El Salon Mexico.

The two huge Bösendorfer 280 concert grand pianos are captured in top-notch sonics, and the booklet notes by Barry Ross complete the package for a must-have release.

Patsy Morita, September 2010

Recordings by artists on their own labels usually give a buyer pause, being akin to self-published books. In this case, however, there is nothing to be worried about; there is nothing about this recording that isn’t recommendable. The choice of composers in the program is a little odd, but the piano duo of Nina Schumann and Luis Magalhães, the TwoPianists of the label’s name, make it work in what is a technically superb and musically fantastic performance. The virtuosic skills of both Schumann and Magalhães is impressive, but the ability to completely energize the music and draw the listener in completely, in such a diverse selection of pieces, is all the more exciting. The arrangement for two pianos by Constantin Silvestri of the Brahms Paganini Variations does at times double up the lines, making for a thicker sound than Brahms’ original, but the duo’s excellent ensemble playing means that in this case, the sound isn’t much denser than it would be on a single piano. They listen to each other, paying attention to every aspect of playing with another person or persons: timing, texture, phrasing, coloring, etc. It’s that skillfulness that makes their readings of the two Arensky suites a delight to hear. Arensky’s very pianistic writing has idiosyncrasies that can trip up the most talented of pianists, and the ability to handle those smoothly and to bring out all of the character in the music in a way that immediately engages the audience is rare, and is probably why his duo piano music isn’t more widely known, even among pianists. The much more well-known works by Lutoslawski and Copland (arranged by Leonard Bernstein from the orchestral work) are just as easily and colorfully performed by the duo. The recording’s sound is also excellent, capturing both pianos fully and clearly, although the engineering is slightly on the quiet side, so your speakers may need to be turned up more than usual. Nina Schumann and Luis Magalhães together give this music an appeal that should reach beyond just fans of two piano literature.

Scott Morrison, August 2010

The twopianists performance equals (and this is saying something) the famous version with Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire Rachmaninov: Suite No. 2, Op. 17; Ravel: La Valse; Lutosławski: Paganini Variations. A classic performance.

Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International, August 2010

The first score on this disc is Brahms’s Variations on a theme by Paganini, Op. 35, conceived in 1862, completed a year later and published in 1865. This large-scale score for solo piano is structurally divided into Books 1 and 2. Each consists of a theme on the last of Niccolò Paganini’s 24 Caprices for solo violin followed by 14 variations. The Finales are virtuosic. Here we have the Paganini Variations in the arrangement for two pianos prepared by the conductor Constantin Silvestri (1913–1969). This is an outstanding performance from Magalhães and Schumann and I would single out a number of the variations for special praise. In Book 1 the first variation is muscular and sturdy. Notable are the syncopated chords in variation VI and I enjoyed the blazing ardour of variation VII. Variation XI is evocative of the soft and gentle strains of a musical box in a child’s nursery and variation XIII is overtly Hungarian gypsy style music. Marvellously interpreted variation XIV marked Deciso, brillante is conveyed with rapt fire and passion ending with an extended Coda, Finale.

Book 2 opens with a peaceful yet robust rendition of the theme. In the first variation I was struck by a circling effect with the music going round and round like a roundabout in contrast to the attractive variation IV: a refined waltz. A wealth of arpeggios abound in variation VIII and there is an unswerving and impressive power to variation IX. Marked Feroce, energico the furious strength of variation X is remarkable. I found the duo had mastered the challenges of variation XI with aplomb and the nocturne-like F minor variation XII has a gently swaying and rocking quality. The duo respond with distinction to the complex writing of the final variation XIV that leads to the extended Coda marked Presto, ma non troppo.

In 1939 the Polish born Witold Lutosławski, an officer cadet in the Polish first army was taken prisoner by the Nazis near Lubin. After only eight days in German captivity Lutosławski managed to escape with several others and walked the 400 kilometres back to Warsaw. The Variations on a theme by Paganini for two pianos was composed during the war years in 1941 and is based on Paganini’s 24th Caprice. Almost forty years later in 1978 Lutosławski prepared a version of the Paganini Variations for piano and orchestra. Burning with powerful passion one is struck by the amount of pent up anger conveyed in the present interpretation which also cleverly avoids the bombastic. Providing a brief respite from 1:42–2:29 the writing takes on a gentle introspection. The final section comes as a fast and furious outburst, yet the duo provide a certain quality of lightness on their feet.

In the last few years Russian composer Anton Arensky and his close contemporary Sergei Taneyev have received an increased amount of exposure. Arensky wrote five suites for two pianos. The first two, contained here, come from the 1890s; a highly productive period of his life. The three movement Suite No. 1 for two pianos in F major, Op. 15 was completed in 1890. The opening movement, an attractive Romance marked Allegretto has a gently rocking quality. This is romantic writing that evokes a strong sense of love and passion. The score has a central section that increases in weight and intensity. A Valse marked Allegro I found strangely suggestive of ballroom dancing on a seaside pier. The enthralling fluctuations in dynamics add to the interest and appeal of the Valse. Concluding with a Polonaise a spectacular and exciting Polish dance one can easily imagine a boisterous scene of freely flowing drink.

Subtitled ‘Silhouettes the Suite No. 2 for two pianos, Op. 23 followed a couple of years later in 1892. The score has a programmatic element with each of the five portrait-like movements (Silhouettes) given picturesque French titles: The language of the opening portrait Le Savant (The Scholar) is appropriately serious and academic with La Coquette (The Coquette) demonstrating its light and frivolous attributes. Powerful and knockabout drama underpins Polichinelle (The Buffoon) that curiously contains suggestions of the sacred temperament of peeling church bells. Le Rêveur (The Dreamer) is a soft and gentle cameo with a central section of gradually increasing tension and anxiety. What Arensky had in mind I’m unsure yet the final portrait La Danseuse (The Dancer) evokes the heavily perfumed aroma of Spain. In this performance I could almost visualise the battling matador performing in a Madrid bullring.

New York-born Aaron Copland composed his orchestral work El Salón México during the period 1932–6. It has become one of his most performed pieces. In 1932 Carlos Chávez had taken Copland to a nightclub in Mexico City called ‘El Salón México’. This was undoubtedly the major stimulus for the score for which he adapted themes of Mexican folk melodies. Before the orchestral version was premiered as early as 1935 pianist John Kirkpatrick had made a two piano reduction of the score for himself and Copland to play. The reduction for two pianos, four-hands contained here was arranged by Copland’s friend Leonard Bernstein who even altered a section to improve the theatrical interest of the score. Bernstein had earlier in 1941 prepared a version of El Salón México for solo piano.

Thrilling and flamboyant, tender and passionate, vibrant and dynamic, Magalhães and Schumann excel in the raptly uplifting and colourful writing of El Salón México. The talented Bernstein certainly knew that a two piano version would achieve increased power and drama. What a remarkable ending to the score as an uprush of vitality and zest certainly blasts the cobwebs away.

I am puzzled why I have not come across the excellent duo of Magalhães and Schumann previously. What an outstanding partnership they make and just where have they been hiding? I was especially impressed by their unison and the magnificent range of keyboard colour achieved is remarkable. Playing their stunning Bösendorfer model 280 concert grand pianos the assured duo provide interpretations that could scarcely be bettered. There is much excellent music to enjoy here. In fact I loved this disc from start to finish.

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, August 2010

They work up a real turbulent lather in the Brahms Paganini Variations. Every single one of the thirty segments is separately tracked so it is a delight to listen through and then pick and choose. The Scorrevole sounds almost like Rachmaninov in its quiet chiming delicacy. In fact several episodes heard in this format remind us how much Rachmaninov owed to Brahms in his own Paganini Variations. The Un poco andante (tr. 28) is grandly imperial and is bound to impress. The arrangement is most skilfully done.

Lutosławski's piano-slam Paganini Variations was written for two pianos. Here we are in a cliff-edge zany and dissonance-allowed zone with superb playing from the duo. More romantic are the two Arensky Suites. Tchaikovsky worshipper that he was, these suites are not unduly imitative - unusually for him though he is always good value. The central Valse of No. 1 with its delicate hesitations and stately confidence is memorable. The Polonaise finale of No. 1 is part romp part grand strut. The Second Suite is in four movements. The first is the melodramatic Le Savant, suggestive of the supernatural and mediums. La Coquette is suitably…well…coquettish with a glint in the eye and an inveigling smile. Polichinelle is played to the shuddering hilt. Splendid stuff. You can really feel the excitement in the playing. La Danseuse has Hispanic Sevillana overtones and a lofty arrogance as well as seemingly providing the inspiration for Rachmaninov's most famous prelude…Overall then this is one of the finest piano duo discs with some really exciting playing amid an intrepid choice of repertoire.

Mike Ford
Classic FM, September 2009

The repertoire chosen for their second CD release is a masterpiece, listening to the CD is much like attending a very entertaining and exciting concert. The Lutoslawski Paganini variations for two pianos has a marvellous jagged feel which is not easy to play. This is truly creative stuff, the variations are rhythmically and harmonically charged with almost an angry energy, Schumann & Magalhães show remarkable restraint in not going over the top. Copland’s El Salón México arranged for two pianos by Leonard Bernstein is a tour de force, a must listen for rhythmic virtuosity.

Thys Odendaal
Beeld, August 2009

Schumann and Magalhães are magnificent. The numerous virtuoso passages—executed here in astounding unity—are presented with an abundantly flamboyant approach, and fortissimi and pianissimi follow one another as if constituting a natural gesture. The essential thing is that the two pianists are in complete control of the enormous structure. That is why their give and take, the continually pulsating tension points in the work, is so impeccable. This is profound music-making—although music for two pianos so often gives the impression of showing off—and this happens precisely because their technical skills do not in the least affect their purposeful ‘attack’. It is all very exciting, but in between the surges, amazing chord passages and lightning-like leaps and bounds, there lies inherent musicality and loads of musical expressiveness. This is a product of the highest quality, comparable to top-quality products on the international circuit and CD market. It is a recording which, like those of Cliburn and Arrau decades ago, will afford hours of listening and repeated listening pleasure.

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