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Romantic Music for Piano Four-

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Rare 19th-Century Piano Four-Hand Music July 7 2009
By J Scott Morrison - Published on
Format: Audio CD
The 19th century was the heyday of four-hand piano music. Music-making in the home was also at its high point and it is no surprise that composers, both major and minor, turned out reams of pieces to be played by amateurs. The works on this disc, while not necessarily for amateurs, are all intended to be gracious and light, perfect for home musicales. I was not familiar with most of these pieces and for that reason alone am glad it came along.

There are two sonatas for piano four-hands written by the French composer (son of an English father) named Georges Onslow (1784-1853). They are Mendelssohnian, light and pleasant, written in such a way that they sound inevitable in their form and harmonies. The three Burlesques (from a group of Six Burlesques, Op. 58) by Max Reger (1873-1916) are both ingeniously crafted and entirely enjoyable in impact. The last of them, No. 6, makes witty use of 'Ach, du lieber Augustin' and subjects it to Reger's crafty counterpoint. There is a Polonaise from early in the career of Richard Wagner. It is negligible but pleasant enough. On the other hand, there is the Grand Valse di Bravura by Liszt which is big in size and impact. It is rather Chopinesque but has some of Liszt's expected virtuosity. It is actually a four-hand arrangement of a piece that was originally for two-hands and it is not clear whether it was arranged by Liszt himself or someone else. In any case, it is impressive.

Included are two (Nos. 2 & 3) of Grieg's familiar Norwegian Dances, Op. 35, in their original four-hand form; nowadays they are perhaps better known in Hans Sitt's orchestration. They have Grieg's charm coupled with a distinct folk-dance feeling. Mily Balakirev (1837-1910) is represented by his Suite for Piano Four-Hands. Its three movements -- Polonaise, Scherzo, Chansonette -- are charming in a modest way. They are nowhere near as virtuosic as Balakirev's most famous piano work, the knucklebusting Islamey.

These performances were recorded in 1978 (Onslow No. 1, Liszt, Wagner, Balakirev) and in 1985 (Onslow No. 2, Reger, Grieg) by Elizabeth Buccheri and Richard Boldrey, a Chicago piano duo who teamed up in 1970; they are mostly known in the upper Midwest. Each is individually known as a collaborative pianist and/or vocal coach. Their playing is graceful, musical and consistently satisfying. They are given lifelike sound in this excellent remastering.

Scott Morrison