This formidable piano duo (and husband-and-wife team) has made over 30 CDs already and the latest disc further enhances their considerable reputation. Anthony Goldstone provides the excellent programme notes, explaining how when they met in America in 1928 Gershwin’s request to study with Ravel was greeted with the reply that it might cause him to “lose his great gift of melody and spontaneity”. The notes are generally a mine of information (Ravel’s Boléro is ‘reputed to be performed somewhere in the world very fifteen minutes’). The works of the two composers, both of whom died in 1937, are cleverly alternated, creating some fascinating juxtapositions, with Gershwin’s Cuban Overture being followed by Ravel’s ‘Habanera’ (a dance originating from Havana) from Sites auriculaires. The programme provides a wonderful blend of the familiar and the obscure, as well as a novelty in the form of Goldstone’s own piano duet arrangement of Ravel’s melody ‘Fascination’.
Rhapsody in Blue receives the full-blown treatment in its original version for two pianos. For many this will be a poor substitute as compared with the rich colour of Ferde Grofé’s orchestration, but it is a surprisingly effective arrangement in its own right, really disappointing only in the broad cantabile melodies (such as that of the E major Andantino moderato), which should hold swell and brim forth, providing such a wonderful contrast to the extrovert and often percussive display of the solo piano. With this lack of contrast, the solo part is inevitably less distinct, and the nimble and fleet-fingered passagework – particularly in the repeated note section towards the close – loses some of its lustre and its exuberance, all the more so for the lack of really flamboyant display; the likes of Previn achieve greater evenness of touch, a quicker tempo and a resulting sense of real exhilaration here.
Ravel’s Ma mere l’oye – ‘receiving its first recording in Roger Nichols’s corrected edition for Peters’ – is performed with a very suitable delicate simplicity. There’s more subtlety of shape and colouring to be found in this work, as evident in last year’s release by the Labèque sisters, and greater vitality too from Lortie and Mercier (even if it’s at the expense of the composer’s own metronome markings in ‘Laideronette’), but Goldstone’s and Clemmow’s approach is no less valid for being less overtly characterised.
The smaller works fare equally well, with dance rhythms predominating, clearly articulated in Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm Variations, Cuban Overture and Ravel’s ‘Habanera’, before culminating in a controlled performance of Boléro. This is again undercharacterised and slightly subdued, avoiding the intensity and excitement of Lortie and Mercier, who are more that two-and-a-half minutes quicker.
A few reservations apart, these are very worthy performances, the programme is an attractive one for its variety and for the inclusion of many rarely heard works, and the sound quality is ideal. The major works here may have received more committed performances than these, nevertheless, devotees of piano duo repertoire will doubtless want to add this to their collections.