When I first approached this disc, I had almost convinced myself that I probably would not like it. I am after all a keen admirer of Tchaikovsky’s brilliant skill at orchestration. I did not feel that such a wonderfully orchestrated work as the Fourth Symphony would transfer well to a keyboard instrument. I was to be proved wrong. It is true that there is much missing, but instead of just being missing, there is a lot more which you can hear which is otherwise masked by orchestral clothing.
The arrangement here is by Sergei Taneyev, who was a friend of the master and teacher of Glière, Scriabin, Medtner and Rachmaninov. He was a significant composer in his own right. Incidentally, when asked by the composer at its first performance what he thought of the symphony, he was none too complimentary, saying “… Although there were some superb bits in it … the first movement is disproportionately long … The trumpet fanfares … make you think that this is programme music. Nevertheless I like the movement very much … The Andantino is exceedingly nice … The scherzo is excellent; I don’t like the trio which is like a dance out of a ballet. I think your variations on the (the folk song which forms the subsidiary theme in the finale) too slight and insufficiently interesting. One of this symphony’s failings … is that in each movement there is something which recalls ballet music …”
Whatever his misgivings, Taneyev makes a very successful transcription of the symphony and the two pianists are thoroughly idiomatic in conveying the emotional centre of the work, the first movement. Tchaikovsky’s emotional state at the time was largely determined by his disastrous marriage and its demise. In the arrangement, there are many touching moments. Some of Tchaikovsky’s detailed harmonies sound quite different without the colouring of the full orchestra.
The Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture has been transcribed by Nadezhda Purgold, who was a pianist, but is perhaps better known as Madame Rimsky-Korsakov. It is rather ironic that this reduction to four hands, was done by the spouse of a musician who was responsible for some of the most colourful compositions known. The sombre opening sequence is made dark by the deep colours of the pianos and does not seem in the slightest out of character. The more emotional climaxes of the Montagues and Capulets fight scenes, where the searing trumpet is usually to be heard soaring over the orchestral mayhem, misses some of the drama. However the superlative playing of Goldstone and Clemmow offer a different kind of drama.
We then lead on to the arrangements for two pianos of Tchaikovsky’s Fifty Russian Folk Songs, each of which were written for two pianos by the composer himself. Each song lasts less than a minute in many cases and to some extent these foreshadow Bartók’s and Kodaly’s work with Hungarian and Romanian folk music. This in no way diminishes Tchaikovsky’s work in this area. Some of these tunes will be immediately recognisable to those who know Tchaikovsky’s orchestral works reasonably well.
The recording quality could be clearer, but is in no way a handicap, and this could in any event be more to do with the church acoustic. Highly recommended. Tracks 1, 3, 5 and 6 are commended for sampling. Five “Ludwigs”