The duo-piano ensemble Piano à deux, consisting of the husband-and-wife team of Robert and Linda Ang Stoodley, has entitled this recital of works by three French composers France Revisited The idea of “revisiting” French music could reflect the fact that none of the works on the disc, except for Debussy’s Petite Suite, are well known. George (or Georges) Onslow (1784-1853) was a French composer of mixed French and English parentage. He is known mainly for his string quartets and quintets, of which he wrote a great many, but he wrote only a small amount for piano. His op. 7 Sonata for Piano Four Hands, one of two such works he composed, dates from 1811, early in his career and not too long after he began formal composition study under Anton Reicha. The sonata is a fairly large-scale work, about 28 minutes in this performance. Its three movements are marked Allegro espressivo, Romanza, and Finale: Agitato. Echoes of Mozart and Beethoven abound, but there are also some surprisingly Schubertian moments in the first two movements. Since Schubert was only 14 years old in 1811, it is very unlikely that Onslow had any direct contact with or influence from him, but both Schubert and Reicha, it could be mentioned, studied with Antonio Salieri and Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, so perhaps there is some common musical ancestry at work here. The sonata is a pleasing work, especially in the beautiful Romanza, although it does not impress me as being on the same level as Onslow’s later quartets and quintets. The performance by the Stoodleys is spirited and energetic, although it sometimes could benefit from greater incisiveness. I haven’t heard any of the three other recordings of this work that are currently available.
The Stoodleys follow up the sonata with a collection of short pieces for piano solo composed by Onslow during the 1830s and published as a set only after his death. The two pianists divide the pieces among themselves, with Linda performing Nos. 1, 2, and 4 and Robert Nos. 3, 5, and 6. The first five pieces are all under two minutes in length and are very simple and technically undemanding, like pieces written for children. The final piece, lasting six minutes, is more substantial in content as well as length. The playing of Robert Stoodley in this set impresses me as being more nuanced and shapely than that of his wife, but this repertoire is probably not a fair test.
The Stoodleys offer a winning performance of Debussy’s Petite Suite. Their tempos are more leisurely than the rather brisk ones chosen by Michel Béroff and Jean-Philippe Collard (EMI), especially in “Cortège” and “Ballet.” Their linearity, elasticity, gracefulness, and blended tonal palette contrast with the more percussive and détaché playing, textural clarity, and urgent forward pressure of Béroff and Collard. Although it’s hard to dispute the pedigree of those two eminent French pianists if forced to choose I would opt for the Stoodley performance as a more satisfying realization of this charming music.
Chansons de l’amour et de la guerre (Songs of Love and War) is a suite transcribed for piano four hands by Linda Ang Stoodley from songs written by Francis Poulenc in the 1930s and 1940s. I am on record as expressing skepticism about the value of such transcriptions, unless they are by the composer, but since I am mostly unfamiliar with the Poulenc songs, I can judge the results here only on their merits as a work for piano. I have to acknowledge that I enjoyed hearing this suite, although the style and even the thematic material are sometimes borrowed from others. Two of the numbers, “La Couronne” (The Crown) and “Les gars polonais” (The Polish Lads) are drawn from a collection entitled Eight Polish Songs that Poulenc wrote in 1934 for a Polish singer then residing in Paris. The melodic material of the first of these seems purloined from Chopin. I do have a recording of “Les chemins de l’amour” (The Pathways of Love) in its original form, a 1940 song for soprano and written for inclusion in Jean Anouilh’s play Leocadia. In the transcription, it sounds very much like something out of a ballet by Glazunov, but that connection is somehow less obvious in the original. At four and a half minutes, “Violon” is the lengthiest number in the suite. A slow, nostalgic waltz, it is also fortunately one of the most engaging. As a whole, the suite elicits from these duo-pianists playing that is lively, graceful, and shaped by tasteful, unexaggerated expressivity.
Sound quality is good, although a bit more reverberant than is ideal. The music on this release may not be of the greatest importance, but it is enjoyable and well performed.
There have been many Carson Cooman organ releases lately – both as composer and organist. But Carson also composes for other instruments, including brass. ‘Rising at Dawn’ features his chamber music with brass. divineartrecords.com…
RT @Sheppardskaerve And I get home and DRUM ROLL. The new disc of Trandavil wonderful three sonatas, 2nd Concerto and 'Fibers AND Coils' for quartet. Thanks to Stephen Sutton and the @DivineArtRecord team for the wonderful work-and to the Kreutzers, Longbow, and especially RoderickChadwick! pic.twitter.com/UiaT…