Before radio and recordings, the only way to hear symphonic literature at home was to play it on the piano. And from that necessity, the piano-duet arrangement industry was born. Late 19th and early 20th century consumers could buy four-hand versions of just about anything: Brahms symphonies, Wagner operas, Schubert waltzes, and overtures from obscure Italian operas by obscure Italian composers. And what better way for Frederick Delius’ young friend and ardent champion Peter Warlock (Philip Heseltine) to promote his mentor’s orchestral works than by arranging them for duet? Delius not only was happy to have his music disseminated this way, but also expressed concern that the transcriptions be practical and playable.
Naturally the piano cannot replicate the shimmer and resonance characterizing this composer’s gorgeous string writing, while specific instrumental effects lose their timbral identity (the descending interval that depicts a cuckoo’s call, for example, sounds particularly ludicrous on the piano). On the other hand, Warlock does full pianistic justice to Delius’ sensual harmonic palette and avoids the thick doublings and extreme-register fatigue that often make these kinds of arrangements more interesting for active players than for passive listeners. And given Noriko Ogawa and Kathyrn Stott’s colorful and texturally varied duo pianism, you hardly miss the orchestra. Perhaps Dance Rhapsody No. 1 loses its highland lilt via the keyboard, but the steady chordal processions in the first two movements of the North Country Sketches actually gain in clarity and definition. If you fancy piano duet arrangements you’ll certainly enjoy this well-recorded release. [1/5/2004]