Fanfare

The question, as always in recordings of four-hand piano arrangements of orchestral works, is whether the piano arrangement and its performance are rewarding in their own terms. In this case, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Moreover, both arrangements featured here are of historical interest, the symphony undertaken by Tchaikovsky’s best-known student, Sergei Taneyev (1856–1915), and that of Romeo and Juliet undertaken by Nadezhda Purgold (1848–1919), better known as Mme. Rimsky-Korsakov. Her skills in adapting Tchaikovsky’s chestnut to the four-hand medium reveal a formidable talent; indeed, she was more thoroughly “trained” as a composer than her famous husband, who regarded her as one of his chief influences. She arranged several works by both her husband and Tchaikovsky for their publisher Bessel.

The married piano duo Goldstone and Clemmow bring a satisfying tensile energy and spring to their reading of the first movement of the symphony, details always building toward forward motion. The gradually lengthening phrases in the first movement’s second subject reveal subtle details of Tchaikovsky’s structural logic. The stormy climax of the development combines controlled clarity and impressive, volcanic energy.

Goldstone and Clemmow show themselves keenly attuned to the ebb and flow of music, and to each other. Particularly impressive is their second movement, with its seemingly spontaneous and elastic application of warm agogic accents and unanimity of expression. The transcription of the finale is remarkably pianistic, exploiting the full range of the instrument and even finding suitable equivalents of Tchaikovsky’s percussive effects. Certainly, a single piano texture is incapable of fully duplicating the movement’s coruscating orchestral effects, and crashing interruptions, even with four hands. Still, it is a swashbuckling, and musically substantial, performance.

One is immediately gripped by the connected, mounting energy in the opening chorale of Romeo and Juliet . More flamboyantly virtuosic and texturally complex than Taneyev’s straightforward transcription of the symphony, this is a showpiece that should feature more often in recitals. The duo brings a springing, leaping energy to the fugal development of the first subject, and a variegated touch and revelatory attention to inner voices in the famous second subject, which has here far more than the expected textural interest. The development section profits from the complex interplay of connected and detached textures, propelled by the pianists’ canny sense of dynamic shaping.

The disc is rounded out with a generous helping of excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s set of 50 arrangements for piano four hands. In their booklet essay, the pianists liken the composer’s collection to the later folkloric collecting and transcription efforts of Béla Bartók. While this claim may seem exaggerated, they present the sequence of arrangements simply and objectively, but with energy. These brief and often unelaborated snippets will mostly be familiar not just to Tchaikovsky aficionados but connoisseurs of Russian music in general. The recording is natural and reverberant, with no distortion and full bloom around the keyboards. This disc is great fun; seek it out!

—Christopher Williams