A release on the brand-new Spectrum label presents two pianists whose names are not among the very best-known, in a program of music very likely to be totally unknown to almost everyone. It may not make Richard Moldrey and Elizabeth Buccheri overnight celebrities, but it could very well prove to be a "sleeper" if it gets a little exposure. It is just the sort of thing people like to tell each other about and badger radio stations to play -- and play again.
This collection of "Romantic Music for Piano Four-Hands" (Spectrum SR-113, cassette SC-213) comprises a Grande Valse di bravura by Liszt, a Polonaise in D major by Wagner, a three-movement suite by Mily Balakirev, and a very substantial Sonata in E minor by George Onslow, a Frenchborn Englishman who lived from 1784 to 1853. All four works are performed with great style and evident affection. t
Janice Marciano's annotation gives us a comprehensive background on the piano duet tradition, but very little information on the music recorded here. She refers to Schubert as the source of "the largest output of four-hand literature," and Schubert's imprint appears to be very strong on the Onslow Sonata. "Appears to be," however, because it may well have been Onslow who made the imprint on Schubert. We know that it was Onslow's cello quintets, and not Boccherini's, that served as the models for Schubert's great Qintet in C major, so perhaps it ought not to surprise us to find Schubertian characteristics in this expansive, meaty, well-balanced work -- which by itself would justify investment in this package.
The Balakirev Suite, one of that composer's valedictory works, was completed in 1908 but may have been years in the making (Balakirev worked on-and-off on his First Symphony about 30 years); this too is a worthwhile discovery, and if the Liszt and Wagner pieces are trifles they are certainly agreeable ones. Wagner was all of 18 when he composed his three-minute Polonaise; there is no point looking for the seeds of Tristan in the piece, but there are some charming echoes of Weber.
All in all, charm is one of this handsome record's long suits, and it is not the sort that wears thin easily. The recording itself is first-rate, and the pressing (I have not heard the cassette) strikes me as the equal of any being produced in this country. The price -- $4.50 for Spectrum discs and simultaneously issued cassettes -- puts this label in the "budget" category, but nothing about its production standards does.
One may wonder why some of the giants can't seem to match this quality at twice the price. Martha Argerich's performances of Schumann's Op. 12 "Fantasiestueke" and Op. 17 "Fantasy" in C major are so disfigured by the gritty surfaces on Columbia M 35168 that it takes more determination and imagination than I could muster to enjoy the fire and poetry in her playing. Regrettably, this is not an isolated example.
Deutsche Grammophon does must better for Daniel Barenboim in his new Schumann coupling, the "Carnaval," Op. 9, and "Faschingsschwank aus Wien," Op. 36, beautifully recorded and impeccably pressed (2531.090, cassette 3301.090); but Barenboim, I think, does less well for Schumann. I found these performances disappointingly mannered and, in the "Carnaval" especially, too thoroughly Eusebian at the expense of poor Florestan.Anyone more sympathetic to such an approach than I am will surely admire Barenboim's eloquence as its protagonist.
A far more successful Barenboim release on the same label -- in fact, irrestistible -- finds him conducting teh English Chamber Orchestra in Haydn's symphonies No. 45 in F-sharp minor ("Farewell") and No. 48 in C major "(Maria Theresia"). This superb issue (2531.091, cassette 3301.091) must be among the half-dozen-or-so most stunning recordings of Haydn symphonies to reach us from any source so far. Not since Mogens Woeldike's old London mono has the robustly festive No. 48 been so gloriously realized, and of course the art of sound recording has come a long way since 1952.
Neville Marriner's Philips recording of the "Maria Theresia," the last new version prior to Barenboim's, was spoiled by the omission of the drums. Since no drum part for this work in Haydn's own hand has been found, some musicians assume he didn't write one, but it is really inconveivable that Haydn would have expected -- or allowed -- so festive a C major work as this, opening with those marvelous horns in alt to be performed without drums. Marriner is more convincing in his newest pair of Haydn symphonies, No. 31 ("Horn-Signal") and No. 73 ("La Chasse"), both in D major (Philips 9500.518, cassette 7300.674). The performances by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields are vigorous, polished, witty and splendidly recorded. I especially liked the sensible tempo for the tricky Minuet of No. 73, which so often tends either to drag or to be absurdly hotted-up.