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CD Review

Maurice Ravel

Favorite Flavours

  • Rapsodie espagnole (version for piano duo)
  • La valse (version for piano duo)
  • Ma Mère L'Oye (version for piano duo)
  • Daphnis et Chloé: Suite #2 (arranged for piano duo)
Piano Duo Genova & Dimitrov
CPO 777283-2 DDD 52:52
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In the 1800s, piano versions (for solo piano, piano four hands, or two pianos) of orchestral works helped spread music beyond the concert hall and into more intimate spaces. With the advent of sound recordings in the 1900s, piano versions lost some of that importance, although they retained their entertainment and novelty value, and also their practical value in the rehearsal spaces of ballet companies and the like.

CPO's booklet notes are not entirely clear about this, however I believe that all of the music on this CD, with the exception of the Daphnis suite, was either originally composed by Ravel for piano duo (Rapsodie espagnole, Ma Mère L'Oye) or later arranged by Ravel for piano duo (La valse). All are better known in their orchestral versions, of course. (The Daphnis suite was arranged by Léon Roques.) Ravel was such a masterful orchestrator that it seems a shame to trade in one's color television for a black-and-white set, as it were. Nevertheless, Ravel was no less masterful at creating colors when he wrote for the piano, so these versions for piano duo don't feel like starvation rations after all. (Tellingly, the Daphnis suite is the least successful of the four works on this CD.) Anyway, Ravel's skeletons – the structure, harmonic and otherwise, of his music – are pretty sexy too, and for the open-minded, these versions for piano duo are not necessarily better or worse than the orchestral versions, just different.

Aglika Genova and Liuben Dimitrov are both musical and romantic partners. The formation of the Piano Duo Genova & Dimitrov was the result of a happy inspiration in 1995 when the two pianists found themselves at the same competition and in the same warm-up room, which contained, however, two pianos. They decided to play the same piece at the same time. "It was as if we had grown wings to fly," comments Genova. Since then, they have won several awards, and this is their seventh CD for cpo. They both were born in Bulgaria, but are of Greek extraction. They show a tremendous amount of panache in La valse, in particular, which builds to an appropriately terrifying climax. The last section of the Rapsodie espagnole also is tremendously exciting. Elsewhere, they have the gift of simplicity, and seem to be keeping in mind that Ma Mère L'Oye was written for two children. (Grownups were its first performers, however.) Overall, their playing is always winning, and sometimes spectacular. The engineering is a bit on the dry side, but I guess it would have been silly to record piano duo versions of orchestral works, and then to muck up the sound with too much reverberation!

The CD's title is "Favorite Flavours." I'm not sure why, unless this is an allusion to Theodor W. Adorno.

Copyright © 2008, Ray Tuttle