Rimsky-Korsakov - Piano Duos - International Record Review
This is a wonderful release, coupling three of Rimsky-Korsakov's greatest orchestral scores in piano duo arrangements made by the composer himself and by his wife. Nadezhda Rimskaya-Korsakova was an accomplished pianist and composer, who had already demonstrated her mastery as an arranger for Tchaikovsky's Second Symphony and the Romeo & Juliet Fantasy Overture, and she was to do the same for two of her husband's works, Antar (Symphony No. 2) and Sadko. The latter is included here, and it would appear to be a much more challenging work to arrange, arguably the least melodic of the three scores, with darker and more subtle colours and a greater variety of texture. Interestingly, Artur Pizarro and Vita Panomariovaite find the scoring and the distribution of parts to be achieved more skilfully by Nadezhda than by her husband, and certainly her arrangement is ideally suited to the instrument, with tremolos and trills that conjure up a rich atmosphere without ever obscuring the melodic and motivic detail.
All the same, if there are inadequacies in Rimsky-Korsakov's own arrangements, they are not revealed here: the performers more than make up for any weaknesses with seamless cantabile lines and textural display that reveals no signs of poor scoring. Scheherazade emerges as a genuine piece of chamber music with a remarkable lack of ostentation in the piano-writing, with extended pedal notes and a concentration on long melodic lines and beauty of tone, and with the inevitable loss of orchestral colour amply made up for by a kaleidoscopic and Impressionist range of piano sonorities. There is little by way of contrapuntal complexity and the textures are by and large clearly voices: with pianists so entirely at one with each other, the result is a very effective, evocative and exhilarating performance. The Capriccio espagnol fares equally well, with constant clarity coupled with real variety of timbre, and the rhythmic vitality of the dance forms are wonderfully articulated.
Of all the orchestral arrangements made for piano that I've heard, these are certainly some of the most successful. They are often comparable in richness to some of the great four-hand works of Ravel, but they are also to my mind almost preferable for the absence of complex passagework and virtuosic display, allowing the musical substance to shine through at all times. With detailed and informative notes by Peter Avis, and a truthful and realistic recording quality, this is a very welcome release.