I must be the only one since the 19th century who has chosen to hear these great symphonies for the first time as four hand piano arrangements. It’s rather difficult to explain how I’ve not heard one of the most famous symphonies in classical music, Dvorak’s 9th. But it’s true; I stumbled onto these recordings while looking for piano arrangements of Brahms’s symphonies. Therefore, I confess my inadequacy to properly review these works for the aficionado since I’m only familiar with these symphonies through this particular recording. Nevertheless, I believe the merits of this music are enough for me to highly recommend this disc. I’ve heard many piano arrangements and transcriptions and I’ve never felt compelled to compare them with the original orchestral versions. I judge piano arrangements by the music content, orchestral sonorities, and overall performance. Therefore, I feel quite safe in exhibiting my enthusiasm for Goldstone and Clemmow’s tremendous tour-de-force recording presented here.
These symphonies are undoubted masterpieces. A first hearing made it clear to me, especially when I heard the magnificent Dvorak work; wow, what a symphony! Those who are acquainted with the symphonies already please know that these arrangements are the composers’ own. There are no lackluster publisher or editor arrangements here. So you can expect, then, a quality of arrangement/transcription on par with Brahms’s or Liszt’s. Attention is given to harmonics and orchestral effects; Mendelssohn’s storm section in the first movement of his Scottish symphony is marvelously done. The last movement of the Dvorak is breathtaking by the way of its ingenious tremolos and decrescendi.
Dvorak’s 9th is basically four movements of spectacular and beautiful music. The first exciting movement is a tempestuous example of pianistic power. Goldstone and Clemmow are deeply possessed by the music and let loose some grandiose moments. Of course the famous largo movement can speak for itself; I feel the sublime melancholy of the piece is well-suited to the piano. The Scherzo and last movement are aflame with passion and roaring with strength. There are moments where it sounds more like eight hands, as the depth of the harmonies and dynamics soar to impressive heights. Just listen to the end of the last movement, a crescendo and sustained wall of piano chords with such an orchestral quality, it’s astounding. The entire work is absolutely flawless on the piano; Dvorak’s music transfers as eloquently and expressively as Brahms’s.
Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony is one of his best creations, in my opinion. It is a rather unusual symphony since the second movement is a short allegretto-like interlude in sonata form. His first movement is also peculiar because of its subdued and mysterious sound, until the storm sections that is. There are no hints of the performers slacking off here; the piano duo continues their prudent and impassioned style of playing, just as successfully as the Dvorak. The real gem is to be found in the adagio third movement. This kind of lyrical and emotional movement belongs on the piano; it’s comparable with a superb movement from a Mendelssohn piano sonata. The singing fortissimo chords sound crisp and clear, providing the loveliest harmonies I’ve heard in a while. Then there is the invigorating last movement, a lively and fiery keyboard expedition. As I’ve noticed in their recording of Tchaikovsky’s 4th symphony for piano arrangement, Goldstone and Clemmow are always sensitive to the dynamics and emotional content. If there is any doubt about their interpretation of the tempo or phrasing, take comfort that their full-blooded execution more than makes up for it.
Bottom line: Though the tempo and overall interpretation of these works will be different to each listener, assuming they have heard the original orchestral version, I feel confident in declaring that the performance is a colossal display of pianism and musicality. Again, I make no attempt to compare it with the orchestral; that’s unnecessary. These are symphonic compositions played on the piano, so essentially I treat them as piano compositions. As such, they are brilliant and electrically-charged piano performances of two great symphonic works. Try them.
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