Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow are perhaps the most adventurous and virtuosic piano duo still active in the recording world today. While other illustrious duos like Trenkner-Speidel, Tal-Groethuysen, Achatz-Nagai, and Matthies-Köhn seem to be hibernating, Goldstone and Clemmow continue to push out high-quality releases on the Divine Arts label. The present release is a great contribution to the four-hand piano as well as the Tchaikovsky discography. Die-hard Tchaikovsky fans may frown upon these four-hand arrangements. Certainly, the piano can only do so much to emulate the tone colors, dynamics, and orchestral sonorities of the original version. Yet Tchaikovsky's symphony is still vibrant and persuasive on the piano, and articulated clearly and passionately by a most proficient piano duo.
The Fourth Symphony (1878) resonates as one of Tchaikovsky's best symphonies. There is a grand statement and a defiant spirit in this whole work. The first movement is perhaps the most forceful, throbbing with tension and anxiety. The introduction was described by Tchaikovsky himself as "the seed of the whole symphony, undoubtedly the main idea, a doom-laden fanfare - an extension of 'fate knocking at the door' in Beethoven's Fifth Symphony." Tchaikovsky's rich harmonies and the sheer strength of his thematic material sound "orchestral" on the piano. Goldstone and Clemmow play the development section with fire and conviction, painting Tchaikovsky's vexation and the harrowing disaster that builds into a wall of sound.
The second movement, with its air of Russian melancholy and nostalgia, is perfectly suited to the piano, and the piano duo has a synchronized interpretation with supple dynamics and phrasing. In the third "Scherzo" movement, the piano duo has much to compensate for vis-à-vis conveying the same buoyancy and will-o-wisp effect that the orchestra's pizzicato strings and woodwind entries manage so easily. Nevertheless, Goldstone and Clemmow are formidable in their delivery of the hyperactive rhythms, wild momentum, and dexterous staccato lines. The Finale is perhaps the most exciting exhibition on this disc. The music itself is arguably Tchaikovsky's most intense and virtuosic finale, with majestic phrases, intense sequences, and a dramatic return of the "Fate" theme. Despite the absence of orchestral forces, Goldstone and Clemmow exploit tremolandi and lower bass sonorities to make up for the lack of orchestral volume.
Interestingly, Rimsky-Korsakov's wife, Nadezhda Purgold, arranged the epic "Romeo and Juliet" overture for four-hands. Her arrangement is entirely faithful to the original score and demands capable performers with unerring technique and sensitivity. So I'm not surprised that Goldstone's and Clemmow's execution of this arrangement is a tour-de-force. They consistently render the entire tone-poem, from the somber recitative-like opening, the clashing Capulets/Montagues theme, to the passionate love theme, with undeniable pathos and a sense of narrative. Less interesting specimens on this disc are the Russian Folk Song arrangements. Musically, they are uneven, barely memorable, and at times too short. Perhaps No. 13 "At Sunrise, at Dawn" is one exception.
Bottom line: Piano lovers and Tchaikovsky fans should relish the magnificent performances of the Fourth Symphony and Romeo and Juliet overture; Goldstone and Clemmow produce heart-felt, noble, and pianistically blistering performances. I would recommend keeping expectations low for the Sixteen Folk Song arrangements, which are much overshadowed by the preceding two masterpieces.