Bartok: 2-Piano Suite
American Record Guide
July/August 2012, vol. 75, no. 4
We all have our
favorite recordings; and fortunately, over the years, as new
technologies evolve, most have been remastered and released again,
often with better sonics than before. When this arrived for review,
it was actually hard to contain myself. One of my all-time favorites
is this Connoisseur Society Liszt recording from the early 1970s of
four operatic fantasies arranged by the composer for two pianists.
greatest opera-based works, Reminiscences de Don Juan and
Reminiscences de Norma are performed at two pianos.
Reminiscences de La Sonnambula and Chernomor's March from
Ruslan and Ludmilla are four hands at one piano. The
48-minute Advent chrome cassette I purchased sometime in the late
1970s is the last time these remarkable recordings were available,
until now. To make this a full length CD, a VARA radio (Holland)
broadcast performance (October 20, 1970) of the Bartok Suite has
been added. The repertoire here was almost without any other
recordings back when they were released. Today, with the single
exception of Liszt's two-piano arrangement of Reminiscences de
Don Juan, the works here still have few recordings for
comparison, and the ones I know of are of no competition to these.
I found it
interesting to research these performances on the internet. Back in
the 1970s a rather staid British reviewer called the Contiguglia
brothers "Ashkenazy multiplied by two", and admonished the reader to
purchase this recording immediately
rather effusive, but I fully agree. The Sonnambula duet
alone is worth the price of the disc. Maurice Hinson, in his
reference work on piano duet repertoire calls it the most exacting
work in the piano duet literature. It took me a a long time to
secure a copy of the score, and I whole-heartedly agree with him.
Because of note doublings in both parts, each is nearly as difficult
as the entire two-hand version of this opera fantasy. When combined,
you add the need to choreograph the four hands on almost every page
— which hands goes over or under the other in texture. The
results here are spectacular.
The Bartok Suite
is a new work to me, and my first thought is why? I see new duo
piano recital recordings all the time, and many supply yet one more
performance of Lutoslawski's enjoyable Paganini Variations.
Why haven't a few duos researched repertoire from the 20th Century
and found this great work? Bartok clearly saw the musical value of
his early Suite, Op. 4 for orchestra from 1905-07 . In 1941,
specifically for two-piano recital repertoire for himself and his
wife, Ditta Pasztorzy, he made this arrangement. Three of its four
movements are lyrical, with influences of folk material,
impressionism, and orientalism. The Allegro Diabolico is a
ferocious, driving, and dissonant movement in sonata form, but with
a lot of contrapuntal writing. As with the Liszt, the Contiguglia
brothers give a knock-out performance. Even though this was done
in concert (or in broadcast as it were), I never heard a false not
or ensemble problem. The Bartok's recorded sound is not at the same
high level as the Liszt (done by legendary engineer Alan Silver),
but it is fully acceptable.
If you enjoy this
kind of music at all, you owe it to yourself to seek out this
recording — performances of this caliber are quite rare.