Thursday, 8 October 2009

Piano Four Hands Recordings by CARLOS LAMA & SONIA CABRUJA / Review


This review was first published in The Flying Inkpot in 2004-5.

A member of a rather established piano duo once remarked to me that the repertoire for piano four hands was a lightweight one. Virtually everything for that combo was light-hearted music, dances, or transcriptions of some form. There was hardly anything that came close to what can be found in the solo piano repertoire. I pondered on that thought for quite a while and decided that she was probably right; I could only think of Schubert’s Fantasy in F minor, several Mozart sonatas, and pieces by Brahms. A reason would be this: much of the music for 4 hands was written for amateurs (albeit rather good ones!) and their entertainment in mind, and publishers of the scores were also thinking of profit (from public sales) rather than the pursuit of profundity.

Almost anyone can try their hands on this music, but it takes musicians of high caliber to do it any justice. Yet they do not have to be “big name” pianists, such as Murray Perahia and Radu Lupu, just to name two who have recorded music for piano 4 hands. Many of the more satisfying performances come from dedicated piano duos, which is why one would welcome the recorded debuts of the Spanish couple Carlos Lama and Sofia Cabruja.
KNS Classical A/001

Their first disc couples two “serious” pieces – Schubert’s Fantasy in F minor and Brahms’ rarely heard Schumann Variations Op.23. Their musicianship is never in doubt, and there is a unity in thought and spirit that drives the music forward. The ebbs and flows are well judged and the 19 minutes of the Schubert comes through like a breeze. The Brahms work is based on a melody Schumann dreamt of during his last years in an insane asylum. It is simple but stately, and Brahms crafts ten variations that eschew his usual virtuosity and bluster, opting instead for a well-judged restraint as a mark of respect for his mentor. In their hands, the music gradually builds to the climatic final variation, a funeral march, before a restatement of the theme. This is a totally musical reading, one that comes with the chemistry of years of working together.

Three of the best-known Dvorak Slavonic Dances (listed in the booklet as Slavic Dances) serve as encores to the programme. One could wish for more ebullience in the first dance from Op.46 but the dreamy spirit conjured in the second dance from Op.72 is just about right. My only quibble is with the short playing time of the first CD. With more than 25 minutes to spare on the disc, surely more Slavonic Dances or some of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances could have been offered.
KNS Classical A/003
Their second disc offers more diverse repertoire and slightly better value. The six pieces of Gabriel Fauré’s Dolly Suite are given the requisite tender and childlike touch, without sacrificing the brilliance of the Spanish flavoured finale, Le pas Espagnol. Rachmaninov’s Six Pieces Op.11 come from his early period and do not match the opulence and virtuosity of his Suites for 2 Pianos. However a degree of flair and a great deal of charm are called for in these salon pieces, which include a waltz, barcarolle, romance and grand march (based on the traditional Russian tune Slava that appears in the Coronation Scene of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov). The duo’s sensitive approach demonstrate that amateur fodder these duets certainly aren’t.

From the duo’s homeland come two works that will be unfamiliar to the general listener but these provide the welcome variety. Three Divertimentos by Xavier Montsalvatge use popular Spanish melodies and has the subtitle “in homage to forgotten composers”. This version for piano 4 hands, featuring some nifty dissonant harmonies, was adapted from earlier piano solos. The name of Daniel Basomba (born 1969) would be new to just about all but his Three Studies, dedicated to the duo, are much in the tradition of earlier full-blooded Spanish composers. The outer movements feature driving rhythms while the central Largo is a sultry slow waltz. These are a joy to listen, and I am pretty sure much fun to play as well. Bouquets to Carlos Lama and Sonia Cabruja for bringing these engaging diversions to a wider public.

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