“Pas de Deux: French Music for Piano Duo” [TrackList follows] – Piano Duo Mona & Rica Bard – Audite multichannel SACD92.672, 74:03 [Distr. by Naxos] [12/3/13] *****:
A wonderful two-piano and piano 4 hands album with works by four French composers, and all of them winners. Sisters Mona and Rica studied with one of the Lebeque sisters, among others. There are good recordings of some of these by the Lebeques and others, but the only SACD I could find was a saxophone interpretation of probably Milhaud’s best-know piece (subject to many different transcriptions), Scaramouche: by Arakelyan on Ars Productions.
I wish there had been a clear designation of which of the five works are for piano 4 hands and which for two pianos, because it is sometimes difficult to tell just from listening. (Usually the two pianos are nested into one another closely and there is little separation between them.) The Poulenc’s title tells us it is for two pianos and the Ravel sounds like it is, but I’m not sure about the others. Nevertheless, it’s a thrilling program made up of the dozen miniatures by Bizet, the portraits of Spain which as just as exciting as the orchestral version, the modern sound of Poulenc mixed with classic form and style, and opening with Milhaud’s super-catchy and swinging Scaramouche. The latter’s three movements are a portrait of a character from the Commedia dell’Arte, and Fast and Moderate in the first two we have a very Brazilian flavor in the closing Brazileira movement.
The two sisters began their careers sitting together at the keyboard of their family’s grand piano, and they have gone on to perform world wide, and work with the Berlin Philharmonic, a Chinese percussionist, and jazz pianist/composer Uri Caine. The sonics are rich and full, and probably headphone listening would prove no question about which selections are two pianos and which piano 4 hands.
MILHAUD: Scaramouche; RAVEL: Rapsodie espagnole; BIZET: Jeux d’enfants Op. 22; POULENC: Sonata for Two Pianos; Elégie