Notes and Editorial Reviews
Suites for 2 Pianos: Nos. 1-5
Pn Duo Genova and Dimitrov
CPO 777 651-2 (79:56)
Anton Arensky’s two-piano suites have sometimes been dismissed as salon music, but if so it is salon music of a very elevated character, tuneful, colorful, inventive, often technically demanding, and always idiomatically pianistic. True, the music is predominantly light in character, with little in the way of deep feeling. Even the Funeral March movement of the Third Suite seems more aloof and ceremonial than
grief-stricken. The listener can expect to be entertained, even delighted, but not stirred to exalted emotions.
The Bulgarian-born duo-pianists Aglika Genova and Liuben Dimitrov have dedicated this release to their teacher, Russian pianist Vladimir Krainev, who died in 2011 at age 67. Their recording competes with the recent release by Natalia Lavrova and Vassily Primakov (AP Classics, reviewed favorably in
35:4) and the 1994 recording by Stephen Coombs and Ian Munro (Hyperion, reviewed favorably in 18:4). For those concerned with completeness, the Bulgarian pianists have one clear advantage over their rivals, in that they include the
(No. 5), which is omitted by the others. The slightly longer timings of Lavrova and Primakov in the first four suites preclude the addition of the final one. Coombs and Munro do have space for it on their disc but for some reason chose to leave it out. The recording by Daniel Blumenthal and Robert Groslot (Marco Polo, reviewed in 18:3) does include the
but is now available only as an MP3 download.
Otherwise, choosing among these three fine performances is difficult. All are technically excellent and very well recorded, but differences in interpretation are evident from the outset. In the opening “Romance” of the First Suite (op. 15), Lavrova and Primakov are the most flexible in tempo and provide the strongest characterization. Coombs and Munro start out more briskly than the others, then adjust the tempo up or down for subsequent sections while holding pretty firmly to the set tempo within those sections. Genova and Dimitrov are straighter and less varied in their treatment of tempo. These differences hold true in the following Waltz movement, where Lavrova and Primakov offer an infectious lilt but play with tempo in a manner that some might find too cute and prefer the more straightforward but graceful and unhurried treatment by Genova and Dimitrov. Coombs and Munro are also persuasive, a bit quicker and more flexible than the Bulgarians. In the concluding Polonaise, Genova and Dimitrov offer commanding, strongly accented statements, once again the steadiest and most straightforward of the three in terms of tempo, but without the swagger of Coombs and Munro, while Lavrova and Primakov are gentler, more graceful, and as usual more inflected.
The above characteristics persist in the remaining suites, the second of which (op. 23, subtitled
) is modeled on French Baroque suites, with movements entitled “Le Savant,” “La Coquette,” “Polichinelle” (Pulcinella), “Le Rêveur” (The Dreamer), and “La Danseuse.” Only the first of these makes any attempt to imitate Baroque style, and here the urgency and wide dynamic range of Coombs/Munro makes the strongest impression. Genova and Dimitrov offer a sparkling rendition of “La Coquette,” although Lavrova and Primakov are easily the most teasing and “coquettish” of all. In “Polichinelle,” Genova and Dimitrov are light-hearted and exuberant, Coombs and Munro forceful and headlong, and Lavrova and Primakov more nuanced. In “La Danseuse,” a Spanish dance, the Bulgarian pianists offer a firm and well-defined rhythm and strong stresses, while Lavrova and Primakov provide more variety and Coombs and Munro more urgency and brilliance.
In the Third Suite (op. 33, subtitled
), the lengthiest of these works, Arensky takes a different tack, presenting a theme which is then transmuted into various dances and marches, as well as a Scherzo, Nocturne, and “Dialogue.” The Fourth Suite, op. 62, harmonically more complex than the others, consists of four movements, entitled Prelude, Romance, “Le Rêve” (The Dream), and Finale. By now we know pretty much what to expect from these three duos: from Genova and Dimitrov a steady, straightforward approach with firm tempos and clarity of texture; from Lavrova and Primakov more tempo flexibility, dynamic shading, and nuance; from Coombs and Munro energy and urgency, with more flexibility of tempo than Genova/Dimitrov but less than Lavrova/Primakov. These expectations are mostly met, although in the “Marche Triomphale” of the Third Suite Lavrova and Primakov are uncharacteristically headlong, and here I find the grand, assertive treatment of Genova and Dimitrov the most convincing. The Bulgarian duo also excels in the boisterous Polonaise that concludes this suite, articulating more clearly than Coombs/Munro, while Lavrova and Primakov are a bit mannered and disjointed and seem almost to be treating the piece as a parody. In “Le Rêve,” on the other hand, Lavrova and Primakov are the most successful in conjuring a dreamlike atmosphere from the arpeggiated figures that dominate this movement. The Bulgarian pianists’ characteristic steadiness works less well here and leads to a degree of monotony.
As previously mentioned, Genova and Dimitrov have the Fifth (“Children’s”) Suite, op. 65, to themselves. Unfortunately, it is the least interesting of the five. I haven’t found an explanation for the subtitle, but according to the notes by Evgeny Barankin, this is not “music for children.” It rather “involves memories of the unclouded and carefree years of childhood, of all the unforgettable impressions and experiences remaining in each person’s memory.” I’m sorry to say that I am unable to detect any such evocations in the eight very short, simple, and generic movements of this suite, which lack the color, melodic interest, and technical demands of the earlier suites.
All three of these recordings represent duo-pianism of the highest order. In each of them, one can only admire the perfect coordination between the partners even in the most demanding passages. For the first four suites, I would give an edge overall to Lavrova/Primakov on the basis of stronger characterization, but the simpler, more straightforward approach of Genova and Dimitrov also has its merits and is sometimes preferable. If completeness is required, Genova/Dimitrov is the obvious and very satisfactory choice, and I doubt that anyone would be dissatisfied with it.
FANFARE: Daniel Morrison
Works on This Recording
Suite for 2 Pianos no 4, Op. 62 by Anton Arensky
Aglika Genova (Piano),
Liuben Dimitrov (Piano)
Genova & Dimitrov Piano Duo
Suite No. 1 in F major, Op. 15: I. Romance
Suite No. 1 in F major, Op. 15: II. Valse
Suite No. 1 in F major, Op. 15: III. Polonaise
Suite No. 2, Op. 23, "Silhouettes": I. Le savant (The Scholar)
Suite No. 2, Op. 23, "Silhouettes": II. La coquette
Suite No. 2, Op. 23, "Silhouettes": III. Polichinelle
Suite No. 2, Op. 23, "Silhouettes": IV. Le reveur (The Dreamer)
Suite No. 2, Op. 23, "Silhouettes": V. La danseuse (The Dancer)
Suite No. 3, Op. 33, "Variations": I. Theme
Suite No. 3, Op. 33, "Variations": II. Variation 1: Dialogue
Suite No. 3, Op. 33, "Variations": III. Variation 2: Valse
Suite No. 3, Op. 33, "Variations": IV. Variation 3: Marche triomphale
Suite No. 3, Op. 33, "Variations": V. Variation 4: Menuet (XVIIIeme siecle)
Suite No. 3, Op. 33, "Variations": VI. Variation 5: Gavotte
Suite No. 3, Op. 33, "Variations": VII. Variation 6: Scherzo
Suite No. 3, Op. 33, "Variations": VIII. Variation 7: Marche funebre
Suite No. 3, Op. 33, "Variations": IX. Variation 8: Nocturne
Suite No. 3, Op. 33, "Variations": X. Variation 9: Polonaise
Suite No. 4, Op. 62: I. Prelude
Suite No. 4, Op. 62: II. Romance
Suite No. 4, Op. 62: III. Le reve (The Dream)
Suite No. 4, Op. 62: IV. Finale: Presto
Suite No. 5 in Canon-form, Op. 65, "Children's Suite": I. Praeludium
Suite No. 5 in Canon-form, Op. 65, "Children's Suite": II. Aria
Suite No. 5 in Canon-form, Op. 65, "Children's Suite": III. Scherzino
Suite No. 5 in Canon-form, Op. 65, "Children's Suite": IV. Gavotte
Suite No. 5 in Canon-form, Op. 65, "Children's Suite": V. Elegia
Suite No. 5 in Canon-form, Op. 65, "Children's Suite": VI. Romance
Suite No. 5 in Canon-form, Op. 65, "Children's Suite": VII. Intermezzo
Suite No. 5 in Canon-form, Op. 65, "Children's Suite": VIII. Alla polacca
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