Rimsky-Korsakov - Piano Duos - SA-CD.net

The mainstay of this enterprising programme is the justly famous Scheherazade but in a different incarnation to that which has made it enormously popular - a piano duo arrangement by Rimsky-Korsakov himself. That the orchestra has been reduced to just one instrument might normally seem to hint at a restricted tonal palette - for the most part, the arrangement defies this but at the last count the piano cannot quite recreate such variety as a full orchestra in either tone or dynamic; try as Pizarro and Panomariovaite might.

They manage to delineate the swirl of the seas and the sinuous solo line (although lacking an open E string gives a rather softer edge to proceedings than one is accustomed) with vigour and panache. There are instances where one feels that Pizarro and Panomariovaite are holding back a little but on repeated listening one realises this is due to the intractabilities of the arrangement not their lack of pianistic skill (even if they had techniques that are better than that currently imaginable, there are decidedly awkward moments that would put the brakes on). Unfortunately for the duo, the arrangement does sound a little repetitive where, in the normal version, Rimsky-Korsakov has played miraculously with orchestral colourings. Nor, for instance, is a tremolo octave E the same as the quiet sustained playing that a violinist can manage - no matter how delicately it is played (and it is here).

The programme ends with Capriccio Espagnol (also arranged by the composer) and whilst this is more pianistic on the whole, there are moments like the "Scena e canto gitano" (where successive instruments have cadenza-like episodes over a snare-drum roll) which cannot, without resorting to the type of tinkering beloved of John Cage, be reproduced adequately on a piano. Still, Pizarro and Panomariovaite make as good a case as imaginable and end with a surge of electricity not possible elsewhere - a shame for this would have made the disc as a whole far more recommendable.

In between is by far the best and most interesting arrangement on the disc: Rimsky-Korsakov's wife, Nadezhda Nikolayevna Rimskaya-Korsakova's fantasia on themes from Sadko. As the notes make clear, and the players response amplifies, this is a "real" piano-duo arrangement. One doesn't miss the orchestral or vocal contributions here - a real pianistic treat (well, if you have four hands anyway!)

The sound that Linn accord the release is good but highlights a slightly tinny sounding Steinway - an instrument in better condition could and should have been found for this disc. For those seeking a purely sonic demonstration disc, there are better conditioned pianos in examples of duo playing elsewhere on SACD.

It is a shame that Mrs Rimsky-Korsakov didn't make more arrangements of her husbands music, for this could have made the disc for more enjoyable on a day-to-day basis.