Fanfare

When this recording first was released in 1996 on Albany Troy 198, it received an expert and perceptive review by Martin Anderson in Fanfare 20:2, along with a recommendation. I will try not to repeat his observations. Elgar’s Serenade, published for piano duet in the same year as the string version was, makes a superb parlor piece. The performance here has admirable flexibility, and is par­ticularly touching in the Larghetto. Sixteen years after Martin Anderson’s article, Frank Bury’s Prelude and Fugue remains the only work by this composer to be reviewed in Fanfare. That’s a shame, for this is a beautifully constructed piece. The prelude has folk-music overtones, while the fugue possesses appealingly open textures, the work of a savvy contrapuntist. Edgar Bainton’s Miniature Suite offers charm with sobriety. Hoist’s early Elegy (In Memoriam William Morris) is a heartfelt piece of mourning, owing something to Chopin’s funeral march.

The CD’s main work, Hoist’s The Planets, is beautifully conceived for two pianos. There are some advantages to hearing the work in this version over the orchestral one. First of all, elements of the work’s construction become clearer. Secondly, when performed by fine artists such as Goldstone and Clemmow, the work retains both a precision and a flexibility that even the greatest orchestras cannot match. Details become more sharply etched, while interpretive decisions regarding rhythm and tempo are achieved with greater authority. The present performance ranks with Georgia and Louise Mangos’s CDs of Liszt’s two-piano versions of his symphonic poems as among the finest keyboard renditions of an orchestral work that I ever have heard.

Goldstone and Clemmow’s “Mars” features incisive rhythms, a reminder that The Rite of Spring was new music at this time. The dynamic gradations here are chilling. The delicate tracery and celestial harmonies in “Venus” resemble Ravel, with whom Hoist’s great friend Vaughan Williams studied. “Mercury” shows Mendelssohnian influences, in other words fairy music. We can hear bits of Morse code-influenced piano repetitions for this Winged Messenger. The first tune in “Jupiter,” with its rocking rhythm, almost sounds like a music hall number—suitable for the Bringer of Jollity. The famous hymn tune begins softly and strikingly, before building to its crescendo. The opening figures in “Saturn” convey a superb sense of desolation. The subsequent death march reach­es its catastrophe, ending in an image of cosmic emptiness. “Uranus” features rhythms that Vaughan Williams would borrow nearly 40 years later for his Sinfonia Antartica, another work about the extremes of nature. The tune in “Uranus” almost could be an Elizabethan dance. The quiet piano fig­urations in “Neptune” convey a broad feeling of space. This music is not far from the bird song melodies of Messiaen.

This is my first exposure to the piano team of Goldstone and Clemmow, and it certainly makes me want to hear more from them. They possess subtlety, power, elegance, and intellect. The 1996 sound engineering holds up well, with fine spatial definition in the two-piano works. A more recent recording might have provided a bit of extra presence to the piano tone. As often as I’ve heard The Planets, I still think this recording reveals elements of the piece that no number of orchestral rendi­tions can attain. This CD deserves to reach an audience well beyond that of lovers of obscure two-piano literature.

—Dave Saemann