Divine Art cannot be faulted on generosity or originality. This disc runs close to eighty minutes and the mix is a spicy one.
The artistry of this piano duo is never in doubt. They have, after all, been playing together for more than two decades. There are many recordings by them and Divine Art’s catalogue alone carries eleven of their CDs including such rare birds as the four-hand versions of Tchaikovsky 4 (now that I would like to hear!) and Dvořák 9.
Adam Gorb’s five movement suite of Yiddish Dances was originally written for symphonic wind orchestra. The themes are original yet have an idiomatic and convincing springiness, twist and convulsion. Continuing the Jewish stratum the envoi is Joseph Achron’s Hebrew Melody which is profound, reverential and soulful. Clemmow and Goldstone catch the otherworldly chime of this trickily complex music. Certainly not the piece of fluff and sparks we might expect from Achron’s violin solos. This is more in keeping with the music on his Milken Naxos CD.
More conventional, but no less entertaining, we have Saint-Saens’ Caprice Arabe. This is unmistakably Saint-Saens at 1:43 but overall, while a polished work, it lacks the barbed interest of some of the other tracks here. It was written in the Canaries in 1894 by a composer who was to die in Algeria and who had many holidays in North Africa. Gliere’s perfumed Orientale is like the Saint-Saëns – a salon charmer.
The Russian ‘take’ on the Orient is represented by Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia which is well known. While here it is lovingly accented and spun the work is ideally heard in the version for full orchestra. I wonder if there are two piano versions of Ippolitov-Ivanov’s Caucasian Sketches and Lyapunov’s Hashish.
Holst’s Beni Mora is a souvenir of a holiday with Bax and Balfour Gardiner in Spain and North Africa. I first heard the piece in its natural orchestral finery. There was the Lyrita Boult LP recording; then the astonishingly impressive Malcolm Sargent version on a 10 inch LP. The arrangement here works very well indeed. The crystalline pellucid orchestral original transcribes superbly for the two pianos with its hypnotic repetition and occasional mystery. It’s only in the eruptive quasi-Hispanic climaxes that the limitations of four hands kicks in. The transcription is by Nora Day who with Vally Lasker served as Holst’s music assistants at St Paul’s Girls School where Holst was music director 1905-1934. The score still required some editing by Goldstone but the results are convincing. This duo and Divine Art have also recorded Lasker’s two piano version of Holst’s Japanese Suite on 25024.
Colin McPhee was an early student of Balinese Music and this and his Tabuh-Tabuhan are indebted to the years he spent in Bali in the 1930s. Britten recorded Balinese ceremonial music with McPhee. Britten’s own Prince of the Pagodas patently acknowledges the music of Bali and the gamelan. Britten peeks out of the Taboeh teloe finale.
Toughest of all here is John Mayer’s Sangit almkara suite which is in five movements. Here the oriental voice is Indian. While not going as far as Charpentier’s Messiaenic Karnatic cycle this music, with its skirls and scarps and potent strangeness, is memorable. The theme is not hidden. Exoticism is the keynote. I especially liked the accessible Jawab Sawal and the Gaud Mallar Taan finale with its vaguely Scottish accent.
Albeit the music looks in on the locale from the outside this is a generous, colourful and provocative collection of pieces with an oriental theme. It is very well documented by Anthony Goldstone.