Sunday, August 29, 2010


A lot of the repertoire for two pianos is arranged from orchestral music, but none the worse for that. The sound of two concert grands is uniquely exciting, though it can be cumbersome if the players are not perfectly synchronised, or if they compete rather than cooperate.

Marcelo Bratke and Marcela Roggeri sound as if they have been playing together for a long time. On Monday, they only looked at each other when they started each piece, not needing to afterwards because they felt the music together. It was an object lesson in true ensemble. He played nearly everything from memory, and while she had prompt scores, for much of the time she didn't appear to need to consult them.

Their programme brought together three American composers united by popular culture [this refers to a concert, reviewed herein]. Copland made his own two-piano arrangement of his cowboy ballet Billy the Kid, preserving its lean and airy textures. Just occasionally, in the second number, for instance, dissonances that are absorbed as instrumental colour in the orchestral original sound intriguingly arbitrary in the piano duo version. The hardest thing to make convincing (and get together) on two pianos is probably the broad opening music, which returns at the end. It was very well played.

Danzon Cubano also exists in an orchestral version, though it was originally for two pianos. Bratke and Roggeri got its cheeky rhythmic syncopations perfectly. And they caught the subtle switches of tempo in Copland's El Salon Mexico, arranged by Leonard Bernstein.

Gershwin wrote his Three Preludes for piano solo, and we heard an arrangement which Marcelo Bratke made in collaboration with Julian Joseph, attempting to evoke the sound of a big band. At least, that's what Bratke's programme note said, though the point of a big band sound is surely its brashness, and Bratke's own playing with Roggeri was a bit too refined to create that effect [not included on this CD].

I wonder what the Labeque sisters would have done with the same music, because they fairly thrash their instruments. But while the French girls are unrivalled in their way, these Latin Americans have their own discreet, considerate style which is charming rather than stunning. I don't usually find the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story [not on this CD] charming, exactly, but I'm grateful that Bratke and Roggeri did their very best to make them so. Their recent CD of this programme is available on the Etcetera label, distributed by Chandos Records. Adrian Jack

Check out for a recording of the same repertoire by a different piano duo.

Billy the Kid
1] The Open Prairie 3:10
2] Street in a Frontier Town 4:23
3] Billy and his Sweetheart/Mexican Dance 3:24
4] Celebration after Billy’s Capture 2:28
5] Billy’s Demise 1:18
6] The Open Prairie Again 1:35

7] Danzón Cubano 6:57
8] Variations on a Shaker Melody 5:29
9] Danza de Jalisco 3:56
10] Dance of the Adolescent 6:05

Two Movements from Rodeo
11] Hoe Down 3:10
12] Saturday Night Waltz 3:55

13] El Salón Mexico 9:23

Marcelo Bratke - piano
Marcela Roggeri - piano

Recorded at St. Phillip’s Church, Norbury UK in July, 1999

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Violin Sonata/ Vitebsk—comparative version: Göbel Trio, Berlin (4/88) CTH20I2

It's good to have more Copland on CD in anticipation of his ninetieth birthday in November: this time three of his best chamber works, all with piano and all of which he recorded himself. Vitebsk, written the year before the Piano Variations, has the same granitic grandeur but it also reveals the different strands in the composer's background. He said he intended to reflect "the harshness and drama of Jewish life in White Russia" so he borrowed a tune collected in

Vitebsk and used quarter-tone inflexions (right at the opening in the strings). The same quick-slowquick pattern of sections is the basis of the movements in the Piano Quartet, although both that work and the Violin Sonata are more lyrically expansive. The Piano Quartet extends Copland's horizons in other ways--it uses a twelve-note row, anticipating later more dissonant works like Connotations and Inscape, although the folksy opera The Tender Land (see review last month) was still to come. In 1985 Copland told Tim Page, when he asked him about the nature of American music: "The main thing is to write music you feel is great and that everybody wants to hear". That public response has not yet happened to some of Copland's more serious works so this release can only improve matters.

The Violin Sonata is played by Romuald Tecco and the versatile conductor and pianist Dennis Russell Davies. The violin intonation and attack—there are plenty of exposed moments in simple textures—are not always absolutely clean, but there is an attractive swing to the playing which is needed for Copland. By comparison the Gdbel Trio (Thorofon/Koch International) stemming from a different rhythmic tradition, seems slightly remote in both this sonata and Vitebsk. Tecco and Davies carry the impetus well in the long cumulative crescendos of the fast movements and the static slow movement, opening like a folksong in the piano, is well sustained.

Vitebsk opens with biting attacks on strings and piano. I have always admired the playing of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players (on RCA Victor—nla), who caught this taut intensity acutely. Tecco, Duckles and Davies, who are associated through the Cabrillo Festival, are a little lax, but the rapid music flows effortlessly, better than the German players. In some ways the Piano Quartet is the most satisfying performance on the record. The outer, slow movements range from cumulative power to static calm and this wide dynamic requirement is faithfully recorded. The second movement scherzo, with its taxing octaves and rhythmic unisons, comes off well in spite of its length. Altogether these interpretations may be slightly lacking in steely precision but they serve the composer very acceptably. PETER DICKINSON

Violin Sonata (1943)
1. Andante semplice (7:39)
2. Lento (5:13)
3. Allegretto giusto (8:41)

4. Vitebsk, Study on a Jewish Theme (1929) 13:15

Piano Quartet (1950)
5. Adagio serio (7:15)
6. Allegro gusto (7:50)
7. Non troppo lento (6:59)

Romuald Tecco (vn); Kenneth Harrison (Va); Lee Ducktes (Ce); Dennis Russell Davies (pf)
Recorded at the Performing Arts center, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA on July 10-12, 1989