Monday 24 October 2011

Strictly Not Bach

Piano à Deux is a piano duet team consisting of husband and wife Linda Ang Stoodley and Robert Stoodley, both established pianists in their own right. The couple's concert programmes seem to mix established and lesser known piano duet repertoire with their own arrangements; I imagine that these latter bon bouches make a fun constituent in a mix which includes more serious fare, a chance to let their hair down.

On their disc Strictly Not Bach (Piano a Deux PAD  701) they present 9 of their arrangements, confections involving music from Bach to Bizet and Borodin via Gershwin and Youmans. Their preferred style seems to be the old fashioned medley or pot-pourri, familiar from 19th and early 20th century repertoire, and delightful it is. They show a preference for mixing things up, so that one of the their pieces mixes Bach and Cole Porter.

They open with a medley from Kalman's Countess Maritza which captures the Zigeuner mood aptly. Another operetta follows, a very romantic arrangement of Lehar's Dein is Mein Ganzes Herz all arpeggios and atmosphere.

At this point I have to comment on the piano sound. Recorded on a Steinway, quite closely by the sound of it, the top end of the piano has a tendency to sound hard and glassy, I think perhaps a little more reverb atmosphere might have been helpful. This sound might not bother some people, but by the end of the disc I was starting to notice it a lot, after all piano duets tend to use quite a bit of the upper keyboard.

The third item inventively but curiously combines Cole Porter's I Love Paris with Preludes and Fugues from Bach's 48. An arrangement of Bach's Bist du bei mir follows on from this, given rather straighter treatment and is simply beautiful.

Their Carmen Carnival is fun, but I would have liked more darkness, after all Carmen isn't a frothy operetta. In Tea with the King they combine Vincent Youman's Tea for Two with selections from Rogers and Hamerstein's The King and I, an idea which perhaps worked better on paper. I found the arrangement of Stranger in Paradise from Kismet rather stiff and it didn't seem to do justice to it.

Gershwin in Tiers refers to the fact that Robert added an upper part to his existing arrangement of 3 Gershiwin songs (Embraceable You, The Man I love, I got rhythm). This was the arrangement I liked the most, the one which captured the atmosphere of the original peices.

Finally they give a straight and delightful arrangement of Eric Coates' Sleepy Lagoon

This is a disc to dip into, it isn't really a disc to listen to at one sitting, having to do so is one of the perils of reviewing. Frankly I would have liked a little bit of grit in the mix, but if you just choose one or two tracks then it is great fun. My comments about the piano sound apart, this is a delightful disc of sparkling arrangements, charmingly played.

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