February Brings Release of Two-Piano Stravinsky Album with Marc-André Hamelin and Leif Ove Andsnes on Hyperion.
On February 2, Leif Ove Andsnes – the celebrated Norwegian pianist whose discography has already been recognized with six Gramophone Awards and BBC Music’s “Recording of the Year” – looks forward to the release of Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring & Other Works for Two Pianos Four-Hands. Recorded with Marc-André Hamelin for Hyperion, the new album is the first to capture on disc the collaboration that has, in live performance, been variously hailed as “a keyboard partnership of titans” (The Times of London) and “a meeting of two champions at the top of their game” (Washington Post). Just days after the release, Andsnes returns to the New York Philharmonic, where he currently serves as 2017-18 Artist-in-Residence, for Britten’s Piano Concerto under Antonio Pappano (Feb 8–10), before heading to Miami for Debussy’s Fantaisie for piano and orchestra with Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony (Feb 17 & 18).
New Stravinsky album on Hyperion
The centerpiece of Andsnes and Hamelin’s all-Stravinsky two-piano album is The Rite of Spring. First heard in public when the composer played through its opening half with Debussy, the piano four-hands arrangement of the Rite was also the first version to be published. For their two-piano arrangement, however, Andsnes and Hamelin have included a number of passages from the orchestral version that were missing from the four-hand original. Comparing their version with the orchestral one, the Norwegian pianist explains:
“In the two-piano version, listeners can really hear the inner workings, the ‘skeleton’ of the piece, and its rhythms and harmonies are more clearly delineated. For people who know the orchestral version very well and then hear it on two pianos, they get a fresh look into the piece. It becomes so transparent how the composition is built, its intrinsic workmanship. It’s very fascinating. Furthermore, there is sometimes such barbaric, direct, violent language in this composition that it’s pretty good on two pianos because the piano can be a very percussive instrument.”
The new recording also features the Concerto for Two Pianos. One of Stravinsky’s most important neoclassical keyboard works, the Concerto was written to perform with his son Soulima. Andsnes says:
“Stravinsky’s Concerto for Two Pianos is rarely performed. It is a very good title because it really is concerto-like for both instruments. It’s a virtuoso piece, full of colors and rhythmic excitement.”
Rounding out the album are three of the shorter pieces that Andsnes and Hamelin played as encores on tour. It was Soulima Stravinsky who transcribed “Madrid” for two pianos. Although better known as the fourth of his father’s Quatre études for orchestra, this was originally scored for pianola. By contrast, the tonal and popular Tango was written for solo piano, and – like the Circus Polka – arranged for piano duet by famed duo pianist Victor Babin. Subtitled “For a Young Elephant,” the Circus Polka was composed for the ballet George Balanchine choreographed for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which premiered at Madison Square Garden with a cast of 50 ballerinas and as many elephants. Andsnes confesses:
“These pieces are just so much fun to have as encores. You can’t do the Circus Polka without the audience giggling – it’s such a humorous piece! It’s so nice to send people home with smiles on their faces.”
Despite the unforgiving nature of duo piano performance, and the rigorous synchronicity it requires, the quality of the Norwegian pianist’s collaboration with Hamelin must also be credited with many of those smiles. “To be in a musical partnership with real trust – there’s nothing better than that,” Andsnes says. When the two pianists toured together, critics on both sides of the Atlantic were quick to recognize their rare rapport. After their Wigmore Hall performance, The Guardian admired the “ideal balance” they achieved, in which “neither had lost his individuality, but the team was the thing. … Andsnes and Hamelin’s performance [of the Rite] had the irresistible power and momentum of a juggernaut.” The Financial Times marveled at their “mesmerisingpartnership” and the “myriad colours” they brought to the Concerto. The Times of London agreed: “We know their separate brilliancies … and at Wigmore Hall they combined with a sort of chemical finality. It was explosive.” Likewise at Carnegie Hall they impressed the New York Times with their “fearless, incisive and surprisingly alluring account” of the Rite and “commanding performance” of the Concerto, while their Chicago concert was “a resounding success,” in which “the judiciously balanced Hamelin and Andsnes struck sparks off one another to produce an astonishingly clean yet tremendously exciting performance. Here was a very different Rite of Spring than most of us know … [that] one was grateful to experience at white heat” (Chicago Tribune).
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring & Other Works for Two Pianos Four-Hands
Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc-André Hamelin, pianos
International release date: Feb 2
Click here to preorder from Amazon
Stravinsky (arr. Andsnes/Hamelin): The Rite of Spring
Stravinsky: Concerto for Two Pianos
Stravinsky (arr. Soulima Stravinsky): Madrid
Stravinsky (arr. Babin): Tango
Stravinsky (arr. Babin): Circus Polka