Nicolay Rimsky-Korsakov Piano Duos Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

A worthy performance of an accomplished work.

Andrew Mellor 2007

Nicolay Rimsky-Korsakov doesn’t often get the recognition he deserves – not only as a composer of lasting influence but also as an imaginative and idiosyncratic orchestrator. This disc sees three of his symphonic scores ‘de-orchestrated’: cast for two pianists in arrangements by Rimsky himself and his wife Nadezhda Nikolayevna. The results, of both the transcription processes and the performances here from Artur Pizarro and Vita Panomariovaite, are somewhat uneven.

Rimsky’s own piano duo arrangement of his celebrated orchestral storyboard Scheherazade is troublesome. It doesn’t capture the oceanic sweep, oriental glances or tangible drama of the orchestral version. Though some of the dance sequences are successful, the result is more a study than a story, and even then, the distribution of the piano parts is uneven (the booklet note interestingly explains why this might be). Not helping is a performance which is similarly uneven, labours over tempi, and doesn’t effectively build to the musical crests – nor recede evocatively from them. If the piano duo version of Scheherazade is more than an interesting curiosity for Rimsky fans, then it will need a better performance to prove it so.

Not the case for Rimsky’s own arrangement of his Capriccio Espagnol. Perhaps Pizarro’s Iberian blood lets him under the skin of Rimsky’s Hispanic homage – he and Panomariovaite (who has previously excelled in Spanish repertoire) play with far more drama and finesse; the texture of the Variazioni is smooth, whilst the tempos in Scena e canto gitano are controlled – ‘pulled up’ and ‘let go’ with flamenco-style panache. Rimsky himself said of the Capriccio at its first rehearsal that ‘it glitters with dazzling orchestral colour’ and this arrangement captures such colour far more successfully.

In the middle is Nadezhda Nikolayevna’s two-piano arrangement of Rimsky’s twelve-minute ‘musical picture’ Sadko. This is probably the better of the transcriptions, and the two pianists respond with a unity that shimmers through the work’s opening seascape and dances through its accelerandos as if the four hands were of one body. A worthy performance of an accomplished work – it’s just a shame there’s over forty minutes of chugging Scheherazade to get through first.

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