This live recording of the entire Carnegie Hall Concerto of May 1, 2005 is announced as “specially-priced,” so that must mean 2 CDs for the price of one. The short first disc must be explained by BMG wanting to include every note of the concert rather than editing out one selection to keep under the single-CD 80-minute limit. The concert was well received by critics and the sold-out audience. One writer pointed out the odd pairing of the young Russian pianist and Grammy nominee Kissin with the veteran conductor Levine. They had worked together on an acclaimed concerto recording in the past – the Beethoven Nos. 2 & 5. But all agreed the duo produced a brilliant yet sensitive sound, sometimes making one think of a full orchestra onstage.
That brings up the fuzzy terminology of the album’s overall title. The normal meaning of piano four hands is both players seated next to one another at a single keyboard. This is also referred to as piano duet – the treble part of the keyboard is the primo and and the lower portion is the secondo. They were intended for performing at home with family and friends. On the other hand, pieces for two pianos are normally called exactly that. Pianists of the highest level such as Kissin and Levine would likely not be squeezing together hip to hip on a single piano bench to play four hand music on the public stage. So what we have here is Schubert’s original pieces for two players at one piano (most homes had a piano then but few had two of them) spread out to two separate pianos – both for more elbow room and for more pleasing spatial differentiation. The cover photo makes it all clear. So what we have here is a perfect stereo setup, though I wouldn’t have objected to a bit further sonic separation of the two instruments.
The Grand Duo in C Major is the major work of the concert at almost 41 minutes length, and was Schubert’s longest piano duet. He said of the piece in a letter to a friend “I regarded it as a piano arrangement of a symphony until I learned otherwise upon seeing the manuscript” (entitled “Sonata for Four Hands”). Schubert may have thought he had a better chance of publishing the piece as a sonata instead of a symphony. The Grand Duo has actually been orchestrated by several people. The opening Fantasie in F Minor is the other major selection on the live concert. It was a sort of sequel to Schubert’s earlier solo piano virtuoso “Wanderer” Fantasie in C. in these works the composer veered from the usual improvisatory feeling of a fantasie and created a carefully constructed work of four movements played without pause.
– John Sunier