this brighter stage-lighting Guy and Bavouzet sound unduly muted. On the other hand the French pair contrive to work in more of the ‘missing’ orchestral texture, be it from the alternatives noted in the published duet score or details gleaned from the orchestral score itself (in which respect Barenboim and Argerich scarcely bothered at all). So pretty soon there are swirls of figuration from the Frenchmen, suggesting, perhaps, the mists of time as Stravinsky transports us to his mythical pre‑historic arena.
One way to sum up the difference is that Guy and Bavouzet are generally more impressionistic (remember that Stravinsky and Debussy actually played the duet version together), Hamelin and Andsnes more modernistic (The Rite is, after all, the godfather of so much musical innovation in the past 100 years). Time and again Guy and Bavouzet score highly in terms of how much orchestral detail they are able to recover. And yet Hamelin and Andsnes are irresistibly clear and energetic, so that the sheer physical excitement is on an altogether higher level. Hear their accumulation through the ‘Danse de la terre’ at the end of Part 1, where the Frenchmen leave the crescendo so late that it almost doesn’t happen at all. And thrill to the impact of the ‘Danse sacrale’, where Guy and Bavouzet have already let the preceding ‘Action rituelle des ancêtres’ go slightly off the boil and never fully recover momentum afterwards. Still, if I had been at the sessions I think I might have asked some annoying questions: why not restore the two quavers missing in the bar before fig 44 of the ‘Jeu du rapt’ (surely a simple transcribing error on Stravinsky’s part); why blast out the low octaves in the ‘Glorification de l’élue’ precisely at the point where the original scoring is comparatively light; why not let us hear at least some of the notated optional counterpoints in the central section of the ‘Danse sacrale’? Admittedly such moments would probably only bother a listener who knows the scores rather well. In the final analysis both recordings are outstanding and leave all others trailing, and I wouldn’t put money on their being matched any time soon. The Hyperion recording places the pianos left and right, where Chandos has them side by side. But I cannot say this would affect my choice.
For couplings, Guy and Bavouzet offered transcriptions of Debussy’s Jeux and Bartók’s Two Pictures, superbly played but not made by their respective composers and not wholly convincing. Hamelin and Andsnes have the Concerto for two pianos, which is Stravinskian neoclassicism at its highest metabolic rate of musical inventiveness: by turns gleefully sardonic and inscrutable, and horribly difficult to bring off. Here my critical pen rests and I reach for my hat. For sheer articulacy, synchronised gymnastics, flawless balance, range of colour and flinty attack, or any other criterion you care to reach for, this is breathtaking pianism. Stravinsky composed the piece for himself and his son, Soulima, to play, and their 1935 recording shows they could more than meet its technical demands; but their historic sound quality inevitably suggests a fuzzy black-and-white photograph by comparison with Hyperion’s highdefinition reality.
Throw in three miniatures – Madrid in Soulima’s own transcription, the Tango and Circus Polka in versions by Victor Babin – plus an authoritative programme note by Stephen Walsh and you have an immensely collectable album: a strong candidate for Disc of the Year, never mind of the Month. David Fanning (2/18) The Rite of Spring – selected comparisons: Barenboim, Argerich (10/14) (DG) 479 3922GH;
(EURO) ◊ 205 9998; Y 205 9994 Guy, Bavouzet (8/15) (CHAN) CHAN10863 Concerto for Two Pianos – selected comparison: I & S Stravinsky (SONY) 88897 10311-2
‘Four Pieces, Four Pianos’ Chopin Études, Op 10 Liszt Réminiscences de Don Juan, S418 Schubert Wanderer-Fantasie, D760 Stravinsky Three Movements from Petrushka Alexander Melnikov pf Harmonia Mundi F HMM90 2299 (80’ • DDD)
Alexander Melnikov’s new release of Schubert, Chopin, Liszt and
Stravinsky is eloquent testimony to the insights possible through the use of technologies the composers knew and exploited so brilliantly. Nowadays, pianists expecting to be taken seriously as interpreters of music from the 18th through early 20th-centuries are at a distinct disadvantage without at least a nodding acquaintance with historical instruments. Among those whose familiarity with early pianos informs their performances on modern ones, few share Melnikov’s keen discernment of the instruments’ evolving capacities, and fewer still his executive mastery. Here he plays Schubert’s 1823 Wanderer-Fantasie on a piano from c1828‑35 by the Viennese maker Alois Graff, not to be confused with the more famous Conrad Graf. Chopin’s Op 10 Études, composed between 1829 and 1832, are played on an 1837 Paris Érard. For Liszt’s Don Juan, published in 1843 and revised in 1877, Melnikov plays an 1875 Bösendorfer, and for Stravinsky’s Petrushka, a 2014 Steinway.
This is a fully realised, robust WandererFantasie that sings, dances, proclaims and cajoles in a veritable eruption of joy. Most striking are the tempos which, from all evidence in both Schubert’s score and Liszt’s concerto transcription, seem apt and inevitable. The quick movements, fleet as gazelles, lithe and pliant without being driven, surround and support a chill Adagio alla breve, all the more desolate for its context. Melnikov’s Chopin Études are distinctively characterised, with every interpretative choice scrupulously rooted in the text and refreshingly devoid of selfconscious exhibitionism. The industrious intricacy of the A minor (No 2) hovers ambivalently between the comic and the creepy, while the C sharp minor (No 4) all but explodes in frustrated rage. Between them, the lovely E major (No 3) unfolds with the naturalness of sweet conversation. The F major (No 7) and F minor (No 8) Études take unfettered wing in a way that recalls the young Backhaus. In the sweep and grandeur of the C minor (No 12), victory of the revolution is a foregone conclusion.
True to its title, Réminiscences de Don Juan emerges as though recalled from a dream. Melnikov treats Liszt’s elaborately florid cadenzas as the connective tissue out of which various scenes come into sharp focus. Bösendorfers retained a vestigial differentiation of registers as late as the 1870s. This quality is front and centre in the ‘Là ci darem la mano’ variations, where Giovanni’s seduction of Zerlina is given almost palpably human dimension. Vivid character portrayal is also at the heart of this sparkling Petrushka. I don’t know of an orchestral performance of the ballet that evokes the title character with greater sympathy and pathos than Melnikov achieves in ‘Chez Petrouchka’. Nor can I think of recorded performances of either Liszt’s or Stravinsky’s benchmark creations more compelling than these. Melnikov’s prevalent richness of detail, unforced but precise rhetoric and exquisite sense of colour are skilfully captured by the engineers. His interpretations warrant the attention of professionals, even as they promise enduring pleasure for lovers of the best piano-playing. Patrick Rucker (4/18)