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STRAVINSKY: Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring); Petrouchka – (four-hand-versions of both) – Sivan Silver-Gil Garburg Piano Duo – Berlin Classics double vinyl

IGOR STRAVINSKY: Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring); Petrouchka – four-hand-versions of both – Sivan Silver-Gil Garburg Piano Duo – Berlin Classics double-vinyl audiophile pressing, 35:31, 32:36 0300669BC [Distr. by Naxos] (6/19/15) *****:

This is quite a release, though it is also available on a Berlin Classics CD, where it all fits on a single disc of course. Amazon has it only on MP3 and the CD thus far but may add the vinyl later. It’s interesting that so much piano music is coming out on vinyl lately when those of us who questioned the original CD releases as not sounding as good as the LP versions did appreciate the perfect pacing and lack of speed variation in the digital piano recordings. The Silver-Garburg Duo were originally recorded on 24-bit digital (it dosn’t say what sampling rate) but bear mind that even with the most and heaviest expensive turntables there are still more minute speed variations than on a digital CD.

Stravinsky wrote most of his big ballets as both four-hand piano versions and for full orchestra. Though the Paris premiere (when the big riot occurred) featured a symphony orchestra, only the piano four-hands score was published after and was available for years. The piano four-hands version was often used for rehearsals, sometime struggled thru by a single pianist. The piano version also allowed many more people to hear the work, since there were no decent orchestral recordings at the time.

The Rite of Spring is a perfect work for piano duo transcription since it is so dependent on irregular and primitive rhythms, with only a few memorable melodies. It is also available in solo piano versions and as a two-piano version (on a CBC CD, with Ouellet & Murray) and one on SACD (on a Triton stereo-only SACD from Japan, with Terada & Watanabe). There’s also a great version for two pianos and surround sound on a BIS SACD. (I tend to prefer the two-piano ones, being more heavily into spatial music.)

The orchestra originally had a very difficult time playing Stravinsky’s music in The Rite and the piano-four-hands version is no easier, though the Silver-Garburg Duo put everything they’ve got into the performance and convey its rough powers beautifully. The various layers of the score stand out strongly in their version and the rhythms are even more pronounced than in the orchestral version. Dividing the over-35-minute work into two vinyl sides ensures that the big climaxes are not compromised by being too close to the label. Sonics are without any problems and the surfaces are nearly dead quiet. And no noticeable speed variation problems on my SOTA turntable.

When it comes to the piano-four-hands version of Stravinsky’s Petrushka, we have a rather different situation. The orchestral scoring of this ballet is extremely varied and complex, and it is difficult not to miss some of the amazing orchestrations the composer used in his orchestral score – not that disimilar from the achievements of Rimsky-Korsakoff in some of his orchestral scoring. Still, the virtuosic Israeli duo show plenty of technical mastery in their nuanced playing and capture well the often playful character of the piano writing. Sometimes it sounds like only a single pianist with more than just two arms. Their version stands up quite well to the orchestral one, but it is The Rite of Spring that really captures the ears here.

—John Sunier

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