This is the third in a series of discs exploring the 2 piano and piano duet repertoire of Camille Saint-Saëns. The first two discs covered original works and arrangements of his own music.
For volume three there is a change of duo to the equally excellent partnership of Hiro Takenouchi and Simon Callaghan, both of whom are inveterate explorers into the byways of the repertoire.
The two works here are by no means the byways; both are core repertoire and multiple versions of both fill my collection as I’m sure they do for many collectors. What is unusual is to hear them in two piano versions;
I have heard broadcast performances of these arrangements but have not previously come across recordings so it good to have them together in wonderful performances and excellent sound.
The familiar Funeral march from Chopin’s second Sonata has appeared in many guises; a glance at imslp.org shows versions for many varied ensembles ranging from theatre orchestra to mixed chorus and piano; there is even a dramatic recitation for speaker and piano – very 19th Century. I imagine there are orchestral versions of both of these Sonatas (I notice that Leo Weiner arranged the Liszt) but these arrangements seem to be the only ones for two pianos. As is clear from earlier albums Saint-Saëns was fond of the two piano format and it is perhaps not surprising that he should choose to make these arrangements of works that he loved…
Liszt never managed to transcribe his Sonata in B minor for two pianists though he too clearly appreciated the additional scope that the two piano genre offered and arranged many of his works for the medium… Had he tackled the Sonata I imagine the result may have sounded much like this. Again there are textural additions that put chords and melodies higher up the keyboard. In the Grandioso section this certainly helps with the tune which for a single player has to compete against thickly textured repeated chords; here the tune rings out easily in bright octaves. In the following cantando espressivo there is a glorious moment where the melody is gently played, almost bell like, against falling quavers which in the original have to be divided between the single pianist’s hands. …
Any caveats about the success of the results should not reflect on the pianism of Messrs Callaghan and Takenouchi;
the playing here is top notch
While they are both olympian in tackling the huge virtuoso demands their ensemble is unassailable in writing that at times must push co-ordination to its limits. The sound is marvellous and I will return to the Liszt just to hear the delicate beauty of much of the playing in the andante sosteuto; the pianissimo scales in the F-sharp major section are a real hold-your-breath-moment.
A quick glance at Saint-Saëns’ worklist shows that there still remain some works for both 4 hands and two pianos including a set of Variations on the chorus from Judas Maccabaeus, a Duo and a transcription of Henri Duparc’s symphonic poem Lenore, so hopefully a fourth volume will follow.