Gustav Holst (1874-1934) made a two-piano version of The Planets at the same time as the orchestral version (1914-16). This was not an arrangement of the orchestral score. It existed before the orchestration was written out and played a key role in the whole compositional process. Two of Holst’s colleagues agreed to learn the two-piano version from manuscript and play it for him on Saturday mornings in his music office. Vally Lasker and Nora Day made detailed notes on the orchestration as dictated by Holst during these performances. When it came time to write out the orchestral score, both pianists assisted in the process, using those notes. The seven movements’ manuscripts are currently spread out in three British libraries and were originally published separately in 1949-51. A splendid complete publication overseen by the composer’s daughter, Imogen, was done by J Curwen & Sons, Ltd. in 1979.
As with most piano versions of orchestral music, the piano will never displace the orchestra. Yet pianists are a persistent bunch and will continue to search out and learn good arrangements, especially if by the composer. As a study vehicle, this kind of arrangement is quite valuable. Holst used the piano performances to check out his musical ideas before the orchestration. I performed the celeste part in a performance of the Planets , and I am pleased to find that part included almost note-for-note in this arrangement.
Frank Bury (1910-44) was an accomplished musician who taught Holst’s daughter Imogen and worked at Morley College under Holst’s directorship. He was killed in action in the airborne landings at Normandy in 1944. His Prelude and Fugue for two pianos is given its first recording here and is quite an amazing work. Full of unconventional harmonies (including some bitonality and whole-tone scales) it concludes with some massive organ-like sonorities.
Edgar Bainton (1880-1956) studied music in the same class with Holst under Stanford at the Royal College of Music. His Miniature Suite for piano duet has three dances in a simple, enjoyable, and quirky English style. Elgar (1857-1934) composed the piano duet version simultaneously with the string orchestra version of his Serenade . Given the fact that he considered (in 1904) that he had never composed anything better, this wonderful gem surely deserves to be better known.
In keeping with the disc’s title, “British Music for Piano Duo”, Goldstone and Clemmow picked some excellent and obscure works to complete the program. As with all of their releases so far, I find the choice of repertoire matched by their fabulous performances. These are two consummate musicians completely in tune with each other’s playing. Inventive programming that has uncovered many unknown works and resurrected others has made them one of the most enjoyable duos I have become acquainted with over the past several years.