The notes state that these are all rarely-performed two-piano works but I know of more than one other recording of at least the first two, and the Adams work is very recent. But then Adams is the most-performed and recorded contemporary American composer. What I do agree with is the allegation in the beginning of the most interesting note booklet that this one-hour disc paints a representative picture of the history of Western music during the 20th century.
The Stravinsky concerto illustrates his Neoclassical style, whose clarity and preciseness was a reaction against Impressionism, late Romantic style, and even serialism. Stressing the percussion nature of the piano, he develops a dizzying variety of different rhythms, both individually on the two keyboards, and in opposition and cooperation between the two. Tonally the work skirts atonality but not the Schoenberg serialist variety.
John Adams became the most popular U.S. composer by moving away from the strict minimalism of his more youthful works and incorporating more expressive and richer language, especially in his orchestral works. The two piano setup encouraged a more minimalist approach on Hallelujah Junction, and again the percussive side of the piano is explored. But with a more popular-music inspired rhythmic “groove” than heard in the Stravinsky work. The name of the work came from a truck stop near the Nevada-California border, where Adams has a cabin to which he retires to compose uninterrupted. Adams plays with short rhythmical motifs which bounce back and forth between the two pianos – sometimes hurled back and forth. There are a dozen very short sections to the work with often major contrasts in feeling between them, which mediates from a “stuck” feeling with too much minimalism. Some of the playing begins to sound almost mechanized and not possible to be performed by just two pianists. In fact, Adams himself describes the work’s extended finale as “The ghost of Conlon Nancarrow goes head-to-head with a Nevada cat-house pianola.”
Notice I haven’t gotten to the Boulez work as yet. And won’t. The Dutch pianists are amazingly adept and accurate at all the works on the disc, and this Dutch label’s hi-res surround is first rate. I had auditioned a couple of other multichannel SACDs just prior to this one, and when the Stravinsky work began it was like some foam plugs had been pulled out of my ears, the clarity of the sonic aura was so much more transparent. A highly recommended disc for all adventurous two-piano fans!
– John Sunier