SERGEI PROKOFIEV: Suite from the ballet Romeo and Juliet for two pianos (trans. by Arthur Ancelle); Suite from the ballet Cinderella for two pianos (trans. by Mikhail Pletnev) – Ludmila Berlinskaya & Arthur Ancelle, pianos – Melodiya MEL CD 10 02207, 70:23 [7/8/14] (Distr. by Naxos) ****:
“Piano Appassionato” = HERMAN GROENEWEGEN: 24 Preludes for Piano – Andrew Clark, piano – self 09031960, 56:51 ****:
The Melodiya two-piano disc is one of the first Melodiya releases in over 20 years which is a brand new recording from them and not a reprint of one of their previous recordings. It also helps celebrate the 50th anniversary of the label, although as the main Russian and previously USSR record label it has recordings going back much further than its stated founding in 1964. [They also went bankrupt in 1991, so I don’t know how this all fits in.] In addition to making available recordings from their huge and prestigious library, the sonics have been greatly improved over previous USSR and Russian pressings, and are no longer the worst in the world.
Many composers—including Ravel, Stravinsky and Tailleferre—have used versions for two pianos as the first audition of new ballet scores, and one or two pianos are often used with the dancers for rehearsing scores. Evidently Prokofiev didn’t begin either of these two ballets with piano versions, but the transcriptions performed by Berlinskaya and Ancelle are beautifully done and convey a great team play that might be envied by the best of orchestras. True, the rich tonal colors of the orchestra are gone, but there are counterpoints pointed out, often better forward motion than the slower orchestra musicians can communicate, and even a different accent on percussion and dynamic effects.
Prokofiev was quite daring in 1935 to set a ballet score to a Shakespearean tragedy. In fact he originally used a libretto which had an awakening of Juliet and a joyful pas de deux by the two lovers at the end of the ballet. The theater management suggested otherwise and Prokofiev eventually yielded to make the finale in line with Shakespeare’s original. Now it is often regarded as Prokofiev’s best music. [We have two video versions of the orchestral ballet coming up soon…Ed.]
The Russian-French duo piano team only got together in 2011 and their first album, of Tchaikovsky, was a great success. They are supported by Yamaha pianos and the CDs’ sonics are without reproach for standard CDs. The recording made just last year. Russian pianist, conductor and arranger Mikhail Pletnev created two-piano suites from both Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella, but Arthur Ancelle’s transcription of the first is considered by many to be superior to Pletnev’s. It covers ten short sections of the complete ballet score, with “Romeo Bids Juliet Farewell” the longest at nearly eight minutes. Full of great virtuosity, the arrangement well portrays the intensity of the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets and the moods of the young lovers.
The Cinderalla Suite consists of nine movements, and is also performed by the transcriber together with Martha Argerich on a DGG disc, but this new version is equally good, though overshadowed somewhat by the exquisite Romeo and Juliet music.
The Herman Groenewgen’s Preludes are a bit difficult to get information on, since all of the booklet notes are in Dutch, and this is a self-produced CD. The prelude probably originated as an introductory instrumental piece that was sort of an improvisation or warming up for the main work. During the Romantic period the prelude became an independent full musical form of its own and important in the classical music world, with most composers having written at least one.
There are two Andy Clarks in Wikipedia, but both are British rock keyboard players, but no Andrew Clark aside from some sports figures. The 24 Preludes of Frederic Chopin are some of the most famous preludes in music, being based on the full cycle of fifths. Dutch composer Herman Groenewegen has created his 24 Preludes for Piano as an homage to Chopin, so his suite of preludes remains fairly tonal, though less so than Prokofiev’s above scores. Sonics of the single piano are excellent. Why the odd overall title for the disc? Messes up those trying to find the recording by the composer’s name. The cover art has been changed since we received our review copy.