|Simon Callaghan and Hiroaki Takenouchi, the Parnassius Piano Duo|
photo Benjamin Ealovega
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 20 2017
A new two-piano arrangement of Rachmaninov's richly romantic second symphony at the centre of a contrasting programme
Simon Callaghan and Hiroaki Takenouchi, the Parnassius Piano Duo, brought a striking programme of works for two pianos to St John's Smith Square for the Sunday afternoon concert, 19 February 2017. They opened with Hubert Parry's rarely performed Grosses Duo in E minor, following it with Leonard Bernstein's two-piano arrangement of Aaron Copland's El Salon Mexico. The programme was completed with the premiere of the duo's own two-piano arrangement of Sergei Rachmaninov's mammoth Symphony No. 2.
Written in the mid-1870s when the composer was still in his 20s and had not yet full developed his recognised style, Parry's Grosses Duo is a large-scale and eminently serious work. Each of the three movements makes a rather Brahmsian exploration of Baroque counterpoint, but shot through with the sort of bravura which makes the whole invigorating listening. This was Bach's counterpoint viewed through a 19th century lens, and from the opening notes of the Allegro energico first movement we could appreciate the rich textures which Parry created with just four hands at two pianos. Of course it helped that we were listening to a well matched pair of huge Steinways played by such a long-established piano duo. The second movement was a gentle Siciliano which, for all the movement's gentle lilt, included some remarkably elaborate figuration and rich textures. The final movement started with a very impressive long crescendo which led to the concluding fugue, based on a very strikingly angular fugue subject. The sheer business of the fugue subject kept the movement bubbling along to a terrific climax.
This seems to have been something of a weekend for rare English piano duo works, having heard RVW's Introduction and Fugue on Friday (see my article), and I did wonder whether RVW knew the Parry work (RVW studied with Parry in the 1890s).