Piotr Laul / Alexander Sandler

Glinka, Dargomyzhsky, Mussorgsky, Borodin: Four Hand Piano Music

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This collection, titled on the spine "Unknown Russian Four Hand Piano Music," gathers several works that are not widely known even among piano duet aficionados. The "father of Russian music," Mikhail Glinka, is well represented. The first five pieces are ones he wrote for duet, four lighthearted and lively dances and a Capriccio on Russian Themes. The polka starts with a teasing, slow introduction before the series of polka variations. This and the Gallop Impromptu on themes from L'Elisir d'Amore split the work between the two pianists, whereas the two "Cavalry Trots," while cheery, leave most of the work up to the primo pianist. The Capriccio is again well written for duet, and has many of the same type of ornamental trills and spun sugar frills as in the dances, but it leaves the impression that it is all show and little substance even more so than the dances. The other Glinka works are transcriptions. Sergey Lyapunov used both Glinka's piano solo and orchestra versions to create this piano, four-hand version of the Waltz Fantasia. It is typical of episodic waltzes of the nineteenth century, but not unattractive as it builds in excitement toward the end. The Liszt transcription of Chernomor's March from Ruslan and Lyudmila captures the orchestral grandness and bombast.

Dargomizhsky intentionally wrote his Slavic Tarantella with uneven parts. The primo part is the feverish dance, but not loud or particularly intense in this instance, that calls for tight coordination between the hands. The secondo part is for a person who doesn't play the piano at all: it's the same two notes throughout. The Mussorgsky Sonata in C major is a student work, not a full-fleged sonata, and more conservative than his mature music. There is an orchestral richness in the writing, however, that is reminiscent of Brahms. In a similar way, the Tarantella by Borodin has many things in common with his own symphonic scherzos, while the graceful Hélène Polka and Allegretto have that unmistakable Borodin charm in their melodies.

Alexander Sandler and Piotr Laul concentrate on the musical possibilities of these pieces, making it possible to enjoy the performance itself. They animate all the dances and make them toe tapping at times, and they breathlessly head for the end of the Gallop as if it were a footrace, with the listener cheering them on. They have an easily communicated enthusiasm and common sense, bringing out the best in the music without trying to make it more than it is, no matter how well or how poorly it is constructed. The sound of the recording is a little distant and overly resonant, but doesn't hurt the performance at all.

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