Rachmaninov’s (Truly) Complete Piano Duo Works

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

This is a useful release from a discographical standpoint in that it accounts for every Rachmaninov two-piano and one-piano-four-hands composition or arrangement. The Genova & Dimitrov Piano Duo plays the Suite No. 1’s opening Barcarolle with less rubato leeway compared to Trifonov/Babayan and Ashkenazy/Previn. Although comparable strictness prevents the second movement from spilling all over the place, the players still allow the busy decorative background writing plenty of breathing space. The final two movements are excellently balanced, and it’s nice to hear the finale’s persistent “bell” ostinato roll out in long lined fashion, rather than hammered away.

The duo’s superb ensemble and careful balances make Rachmaninov’s early tone poem The Rock sound especially plausible and idiomatic in the composer’s “de-orchestrated” four-hand arrangement, although his Capriccio on Gypsy Themes loses some spice in translation, so to speak; it would have helped had Rachmaninov retained some of his original percussion parts! However, the ubiquitous C-sharp minor Prelude frankly gains little via its two-piano expansion.

I prefer the Genova/Dimitrov duo’s broader and lyrically inflected rendition of the not-so-interesting Russian Rhapsody to the heavier, emphatic Previn/Ashkenazy, while their expressive restraint in the Six Morceaux for Piano Duet contrasts to the Owen/Apekisheva duo’s slightly fussier approach. The Symphonic Dances stand out for Genova/Dimitrov’s wonderfully lithe and impetuously phrased finale.

Unfortunately the popular Suite No. 2 for Two Pianos proves this collection’s one real weak link. The Introduction transpires heavy-handedly, while the Waltz falls into predictable square-cut patterns and Tarantella lacks sufficient dynamic contrast. You’ll find far more flexibility and character in any of Martha Argerich’s various Second Suite recordings (my favorites are the studio version with Nelson Freire and the live Gabriela Montero collaboration). Eckhardt van den Hoogen provides informative yet eccentric and stylistically convoluted booklet notes. Recommended on the whole, but make sure you’ve got an Argerich Second Suite handy.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Suite No. 2: Argerich/Freire (Decca), Symphonic Dances: Argerich/Freire (DG); Ax/Bronfman (Sony)

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