Maria Szymanowska Piano Duo is formed by two pianist associated with the Academy of Music in Łódź. The guiding thought of the joint activity adopted by the artists is to promote Polish music and works of less known composers, whose pieces are gradually being forgotten. Polish music, to which the present CD including four hands piano music is dedicated, occupies a special place in their output.
Four American composers, all pianists, all prizewinners at the height of their powers. It is not surprising that the works collected here are idiomatic to the instrument and gratify ing to play. Augusta Read Thomas explores the piano’s natural resonance and beauty. Wayne Peterson’s expressive, sweeping virtuosic lines reflect his past as a jazz pianist. Charles Wuorinen’s bracing rhythms leap across the instrument in a modernist romp that echoes the wit and humor of his opera. Eric Moe’s Afro-bebop encore rounds out the program.
Cool yet sensuous, aristocratic yet playful, the piano music of Spanish composer Xavier Montsalvatge, now in his late 90s, is a constant delight. Whether playing with Spanish motifs, as in the sexy habaneras sketch and the second of the Three Divertimentos, or with French-perfumed Impressionism, as in the pieces for left hand, Montsalvatge demonstrates a gift for elegant melody and delicate piano sonority. Especially ingratiating are the children's pieces, the Sonatine and Noah's Ark set, exquisite miniatures that are playful but sophisticated. Benita Meshulam, a champion of this music, makes a seductive case for it, as does the crystalline recording.
Both these couplings are extremely fine, but taken together they add up to even more than the sum of their parts. The point of coupling Shostakovich’s first and last string quartets is obvious, and the contrast between what the composer himself called his “Springtime Quartet” and the unprecedented sequence of six slow movements written months before his death could not be more poignant.
Busoni embodied an essentially recreative approach to the music of the past. His Bach transcriptions reveal an absolute command of intricate polyphony and a limpid clarity. Mozart stood as an aesthetic and technical exemplar while Cramer’s little-known Etudes are adapted for modern piano technique. Busoni preserved the Lutheran austerity of Brahms’s Chorale Preludes for Organ, Op. 122 whereas in the Mephisto Waltz No. 1 he augments Liszt’s heady writing with a super-virtuosity of his own. Wolf Harden I one of the most versatile pianists of his generation. He has enjoyed great success in the Trio Fontenay, an ensemble that he founded in 1980 and with which he has toured to all the world’s major music centres. Harden devotes himself not only to chamber music but, with the same success, to the solo piano repertoire.