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An exciting performance, notable for the range of colour which the two brought to the piece

Parnassius Piano Duo - Simon Callaghan And Hiroaki Takenouchi

Planet Hugill,  Robert Hugill 

Simon Callaghan and Hiroaki Takenouchi, the Parnassius Piano Duo, brought a striking programme  of works for two pianos to St John’s Smith Square for the Sunday afternoon concert, 19 February 2017. They opened with Hubert Parry’s rarely performed Grosses Duo in E minor, following it with Leonard Bernstein’s two-piano arrangement of Aaron Copland’s El Salon Mexico. The programme was completed with the premiere of the duo’s own two-piano arrangement of Sergei Rachmaninov’s mammoth Symphony No. 2.

Written in the mid-1870s when the composer was still in his 20s and had not yet full developed his recognised style, Parry’s Grosses Duo is a large-scale and eminently serious work. Each of the three movements makes a rather Brahmsian exploration of Baroque counterpoint, but shot through with the sort of bravura which makes the whole invigorating listening. This was Bach’s counterpoint viewed through a 19th century lens, and from the opening notes of the Allegro energico first movement we could appreciate the rich textures which Parry created with just four hands at two pianos. Of course it helped that we were listening to a well matched pair of huge Steinways played by such a long-established piano duo. The second movement was a gentle Siciliano which, for all the movement’s gentle lilt, included some remarkably elaborate figuration and rich textures. The final movement started with a very impressive long crescendo which led to the concluding fugue, based on a very strikingly angular fugue subject. The sheer business of the fugue subject kept the movement bubbling along to a terrific climax.

This seems to have been something of a weekend for rare English piano duo works, having heard RVW’s Introduction and Fugue on Friday  and I did wonder whether RVW knew the Parry work (RVW studied with Parry in the 1890s).

This was followed by Bernstein’s bravura arrangement of Copland’s El Salon Mexico. Callaghan and Takenouchi played with vivid energy and clear enthusiasm, bringing out the work’s infectious rhythms and not neglecting the more lyrical moments. An exciting performance, notable for the range of colour which the two brought to the piece.

Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 is a huge work and until relatively recently was routinely cut; the work was premiered in 1908. Rachmaninov was a notable pianist and he wrote a two piano arrangement of his Symphonic Dances which he and Vladimir Horowitz premiered, so a two piano arrangement of the symphony is very apt.

This was the premiere of the duo’s own arrangement, and it was striking how successfully they had re-invented Rachmaninov’s symphonic textures onto the piano, creating some very Rachmaninov-like moments, with the two pianos creating a remarkable combination of clarity and richness of textures.

The first movement’s large-scale structure was well controlled by the performers, with the concluding sections generating a real sense of excitement. The second movement combined the vividness of the opening ostinato with a beautifully lyrical account of the symphony’s motto theme, and some very inventive piano textures.For the third movement, the main theme emerged out of some very magical piano writing, with beautifully sympathetic and balanced phrasing from the pianists. Throughout the concert it was notable how well balanced and matched their two performances were. The piano re-invention of this movement made its romanticism seem less sugar-coated, and all the more moving. The finale started with an outburst of infectious energy which bubbled along despite some more complex moments when Rachmaninov relaxes the tension, all leading to a terrific ending.

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Sensitivity and panache

Fanfare Magazine, Jim Svejda

Excellent performances from the Parnassius Piano Duo

MusicWeb International, Jonathan Woolf

Splendidly played by Simon Callaghan and Hiroaki Takenouchi

MusicWeb International, John Quinn

Utterly Convincing Account

MusicWeb International, Nick Barnard

“…fine performances of often elusive music… Callaghan and Takenouchi really do give an utterly convincing account… a magnificent recital”

Another highly successful and rewarding endeavour for Callaghan and Takenouchi

International Record Review, Mark Tanner

I had the pleasure of reviewing the first instalment of Simon Callaghan’s and Hiroaki Takenouchi’s Delius transcriptions for two pianos in June 2012 and commented upon a ‘sparkling and sincere treatment’ of ‘La Calinda’ (from Koanga,  arranged by Joan Trimble) . The disc really captured the colours and timbres of Delius’s multifaceted style, so it was with great anticipation that I peeled off the cellophane from Volume 2.

As with the first disc, the recording was made in 2011 in the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire, and as before, was impressed by the quality of the sound captured by Somm.

Love, Panache and Exact Synchronisation – 4 Stars
BBC Music Magazine, Geoff Brown
Arnold Schoenberg famously proposed that good music was music that remained good even when transcribed for the zither. Zither arrangements of Delius are unlikely to happen, though his orchestral music – rhapsodic, ecstatic, often coloured in half-lights – has proved unusually susceptible to conversion for two pianos. In this first of Somm’s enterprising two-part survey, it helps that the acoustic and spatial spread are so vivid: the Steinway concert grands seem right in your living room, lending new clarity to textures and nuances sometimes mislaid in the  orchestral haze. It also helps that Simon Callaghan and Hiroaki Takenouchi, first teamed together at London’s Royal College of Music, play with such love, panache, and exact synchronisation.
The skill of these arrangements varies. Most utilitarian is Rudolf Schmidt-Wunstorf’s On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring which gives us the visible bones but no flesh, no spirit. Delius’s own contemporaries buckle to the task with greater understanding. Percy Grainger’s own piano panache enlivens his treatment of the Dance Rhapsody; Philip Heseltine’s Brigg Fair shimmers with magic at the start; and if the rarely encountered  Poem of Life and Love stays structurally indigestible Balfour Gardiner and Eric Fenby’s distillation still reveals many riches.

Roll on volume two!

Collective spirit for addressing the knotty musical priorities

International Record Review, Mark Tanner

Frederick Delius’s orchestral music abounds in colour and vividness of effect. During 2012 there will doubtless be numerous commemorative ventures marking the 150 years since the composer’s birth, but Delius’s music all too easily slips through the net. It permeates the senses in ways not quite emulated by his British contemporaries, although needless to say there are common threads and priorities to notice; the fact that Delius spent well over half of his life in France means that he picked up an enormous wealth of influences along the way. All the more so given that, at the age of 22, he moved to Florida to cultivate oranges before moving to Virginia, where he found his feet as a music teacher.

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