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Brahms: Sonata For 2 Pianos, Etc / Friedland, Zak

Release Date: 04/25/2006 
Label:  Roméo Records   Catalog #: 7247   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Jonathan ZakIrena Friedland
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zak-Friedland Duo
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Exactly one year ago (in 29:1), I reviewed a brand new Sony release of this same coupling of works with pianists Emanuel Ax and Yefim Bronfman. No date of recording is given for the current Roméo Records CD (a strange but consistent oversight by this company that scrupulously documents every other detail of venue and production), leading me to assume that this release, like the Yuval Trio’s outstanding Brahms discs, was a re-packaging of quasi-historical material. I was wrong; these are brand new recordings by the distinguished Israeli piano duo team of Irena Friedland and Jonathan Zak (pianist of the aforementioned disbanded Yuval Trio). The recording venue was Clairmount Hall at The Buchman-Mehta School, Tel-Aviv University. Read more />
In an A-B comparison of Zak-Friedland and Ax-Bronfman, Zak-Friedland has the edge when it comes to performance. Their F-Minor Sonata for two pianos generates even higher voltage than Martha Argerich and Lilya Zilberstein in their live recording from the Lugano Festival. Words like driven, nervous, and intense come to mind, except that these have negative connotations, and there is nothing objectionable about playing this piece hell-bent-for-leather, as Friedland and Zak do. Few works in the standard repertoire are as wild and untamed, and by such conundrumical rhythmic convolutions confused, as this roller-coaster thrill-ride of Brahms’s youth, better known in its piano-quintet version.

Though Friedland and Zak’s approach in the sonata is less appropriate in the Haydn Variations, it spills over into this piece as well. Just listen to the eighth variation (Poco presto), which goes like Zak’s coattails have been set afire, and the duo has less than a minute to finish before the flames reach the seat of his pants. I think this is the fastest I’ve ever heard it taken—49 seconds.

All of this is very exciting and makes for high octane playing, perhaps even a bit over the top for some who might prefer Ax and Bronfman’s somewhat more relaxed, even-tempered way with these pieces. For those who want to know, Friedland and Zak do take the exposition repeat in the sonata. The recording, too, is excellent. Recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for 2 Pianos in F minor, Op. 34b by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Jonathan Zak (Piano), Irena Friedland (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zak-Friedland Duo
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1864; Austria 
Variations for 2 Pianos on a theme by Haydn, Op. 56b "St Anthony" by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Jonathan Zak (Piano), Irena Friedland (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zak-Friedland Duo
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1873; Austria 

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