Rimsky-Korsakov - Piano Duos - Audiophile Audition

At first glance it seems rather absurd to attempt to funnel down the exotic, colourful orchestrations of Rimsky-Korsakov's music to two piano keyboards.  Perhaps that would be so if done without good taste and expertise, but two of these transcriptions were made by the composer himself, and the 12-minute Sadko selection by Mrs. Rimsky-Korsakov. They create an amazingly good re-imagining of these three most colourful orchestral scores. In many ways I find them even more successful than Liszt's piano transcriptions of Beethoven's symphonies.

Portuguese pianist Artur Pizarro has already made several fine recordings for the Linn label, and is well versed in both the German and French piano repertory. After working on the three transcriptions for this recording, both he and partner Panomariovaite agreed that they felt the Sadko transcription by the composer's wife was even better than the other two by Rimsky-Korsakov; it had better distribution of the original orchestral parts between the two players.

It's elucidating to experience such a warhorse score as Scheherazade in this fresh-sounding piano duo version. It seems to bring out the structure of the work more strongly, yet loses little of the exciting orchestral version. The different voices and themes stand out more strongly, and the rhythmic underpinnings are brought to the fore. The clarity and spatial cues from the two players also provide a competitive/cooperative excitement that in some ways is more involving than with the symphony orchestra. Sadko is not nearly as familiar to most; it centres around images of the sea. Rimsky-Korsakov's son Andrey mentioned that the three influences strongest in his father's career had been "folksong, the Orient, and the sea."

The transcription of the Capriccio Espagnol provides a most brilliant finish to the recital. Though this was one of the composer's most colourful orchestral works, it transposes beautifully to the piano duet form - sounding like it would really be fun to play with a partner. As usual, Linn's piano sound is extremely rich and sumptuous, especially in the surround option.

Audiophile Audition
23 November 2007