Beethoven Piano Duets From A Seasoned Team

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 8

The few original works that Beethoven left for piano duet deserve more attention than they usually get. His little two-movement D major sonata, for example, teems with wonderful ideas and ingeniously deployed inner voices. The three Op. 45 Marches go all out in terms of effect, with crass yet powerful drum beats in the second piece, and motivically interwoven fanfares in the third. Although Beethoven may have written his “Ich denke Dein” variation set with students in mind, it requires real musicianship to bring out the composer’s sly phrase displacements (Variation IV’s propulsive repeated notes, for instance).

In some ways the Count Waldstein variations foreshadow Schubert’s penchant for alternating between major and minor modes, although the final variation’s exuberant coda is pure Beethoven. With the Grosse Fuge, of course, inherent charm goes out the window, and we’re faced with one of this composer’s most notoriously intractable creations. His four-hand arrangement of the string quartet score may expunge the original’s monumental challenges of intonation, yet problems of balance and rhythmic momentum persist, together with dangerous hand crossings that most pianists invariably redistribute for easier execution.

Peter Hill and Benjamin Frith are a seasoned team who have been playing duets for more than three decades. Their faultless ensemble, chamber-like repartee, and appreciably transparent balances represent a high technical and musical standard that ought to please all piano duo fanciers. Perhaps one might wish for more contrasted dynamics in the Grosse Fuge, yet the pianists compensate by not slowing down in those long stretches of obsessive dotted rhythms, as many duos tend to do. The sonics are slightly opaque, but still convey a semblance of concert hall realism. Peter Hill’s excellent and informative annotations are a welcome bonus.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None for this collection

    Sonata for piano four hands in D major Op. 6; Eight Variations on a Theme by Count Waldstein WoO 67; Three Marches for Piano Op. 45; Six Variations on “Ich denke Dein” WoO 74; Grosse Fuge Op. 134
  • Peter Hill & Benjamin Frith (piano duo)

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