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Virtuosity Squared

Liszt / Knehans / Grainger / Pridonoff Duo
Release Date: 11/12/2013 
Label:  Ablaze Records   Catalog #: 9   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Franz LisztDouglas KnehansPercy Aldridge Grainger
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Pridonoff Duo (Piano Duo)
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 3 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

LISZT Concerto Pathétique. KNEHANS Cascade. GRAINGER Fantasy on Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess Pridonoff Duo ABLAZE AR-00009 (63: 18)

Roughly 30 years ago, pianists Elisabeth and Eugene Pridonoff decided to parlay a successful life partnership into one that is almost as meaningful—a piano duo. Since its founding in 1982, the Pridonoff Duo has Read more enjoyed an active and successful career in the United States and abroad. When they are not performing, the Pridonoffs teach at the University of Cincinnati College’s Conservatory of Music. For consideration here is what I believe to be the ensemble’s first commercial recording. Putting aside its unintentionally humorous title ( Virtuosity Squared ), this is an attractive recording that features technically adroit and musically satisfying performances.

Published relatively late in Liszt’s career, the Concerto Pathétique is a rewrite of an earlier piece for solo piano, the so-called Grosses Concert-Solo . Like much of Liszt’s music of similar vintage, the Concerto Pathétique is a grandiose score that makes enormous demands on the performers, which are compounded by the inherent difficulty of performing a two-piano work. The Pridonoffs navigate this treacherous work with relative ease, and deliver a finely chiseled performance that does equal justice to the bombastic and poetic elements of Liszt’s music. It is true that, for sheer technical diablerie, the Pridonoffs’s account does not match Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire’s live 1998 performance (originally issued by EMI and now once again available via ArkivMusic’s ArkivCD program). On the other hand, the Pridonoffs are better coordinated and their more noble take on the piece has its own considerable virtues.

The second piece, by Australian-American composer and University of Cincinnati professor Douglas Knehans, is a premiere recording. Written specifically for the Pridonoffs, Cascade is a substantial, three-movement work that reflects the composer’s preoccupation with how “sounds as waves move about the air as we hear them.” Cascade draws on various sonorities offered by the piano while at the same time showcasing the Pridonoffs’s impressive technical abilities. It is an effective piece, whose percussive, incisive outer movements (titled “Drift Echo” and “Torrent”) bookend a hauntingly beautiful slow movement (“Wave”).

The piece that closes the Pridonoffs’s recital is Percy Grainger’s Fantasy on Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess . A great admirer of Gershwin, Grainger arranged nine of the opera’s most memorable songs (“My Man’s Gone Now,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “Clara, Don’t You Be Down-hearted,” “Strawberry Call,” “Summertime,” “Oh, I Can’t Sit Down,” “Bess, You Is My Woman Now,” “I Got Plenty o’Nuttin,” and “Oh, Lawd, I’m On My Way”) into an operatic transcription of sorts, whose opening and closing numbers mirror those of the opera. The result is approximately 20 minutes’ worth of pianistic fun, as the Pridonoffs’s recording shows. While there have been other accomplished recordings of Grainger’s fantasy, including those of Katia and Marielle Labèque (on EMI) and Gabriela Montero and Alexander Gurning (also on EMI), the Pridonoffs more than hold their own against the competition.

The quality of the recorded sound is excellent.

FANFARE: Radu A. Lelutiu
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Works on This Recording

Concerto pathétique for 2 Pianos, S 258 by Franz Liszt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Pridonoff Duo (Piano Duo)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1856 
Length: 18 Minutes 16 Secs. 
Cascade, for 2 pianos by Douglas Knehans
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Pridonoff Duo (Piano Duo)
Length: 25 Minutes 29 Secs. 
Fantasy on Gershwin's Porgy and Bess by Percy Aldridge Grainger
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Pridonoff Duo (Piano Duo)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 19 Minutes 30 Secs. 

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