REVIEWS:  divine art   dda 25020 Tchaikovsky for Four Hands


Go Fourth and listen in wonder !

A revelatory version of a Tchaikovsky symphony, all but lost and forgotten, has been recorded for the first time in history, says MICHAEL TUMELTY.

Music lovers following the BBC SSO's current survey of the complete symphonies of Tchaikovsky should be alerted to a major discovery in the sphere of Tchaikovsky performance: a previously unknown version of the composer's heart-wrenching, thunderous piece of emotional autobiography, the Fourth Symphony. Now, the very first thing to do in this little yarn of musical detection is back off from that statement. The revelation of this version of the great symphony, a transcription written for two pianists at one piano, is not actually a discovery at all. Its existence has been recorded for many years as a footnote in Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians. It is to be found in the worklist appended to the biographical note on Sergei Taneyev, the nineteenth-century Russian pianist who gave the first Moscow performance of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, and subsequently gave the world premiere performances of all of Tchaikovsky's other works for piano and orchestra.

Taneyev, a gifted craftsman, was the single most trusted professional confidant of Tchaikovsky. A former student of the great man, he was uniquely invited by the composer to offer his criticism of Tchaikovsky's latest compositions. Taneyev's transcription of the Fourth Symphony, arranged for four hands at one piano, is recorded in Grove's with no information, just the legend: "Moscow, 1879", only one year after the premiere of the symphony itself. That said, the existence of the Taneyev version has been almost unknown, other than to specialists and musicologists. Until now. Pianists Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow, a husband-and-wife team, and a well-known and respected full-time professional duet partnership, got their hands on a copy of the music, long since out of print, and, stunned at what they discovered, sorted out the myriad mistakes missed at the proof-reading stage, and have now recorded it on CD. It's almost certainly the first recording of the work,
and it is so revelatory of the music itself - as well as being a cracking performance - that it should become an imperative for any devotee of this most personal and volcanic musical statement from Tchaikovsky's tortured spirit.

As so often with discoveries, the unearthing of the Fourth transcription came about by a circuitous route. About 15 years ago, Caroline Clemmow was on a concert tour in the Soviet Union. Saddled with a pile of roubles that she was not allowed to take out of the country, she dashed into a music shop in Leningrad just before leaving, and grabbed armfuls of sheet music for piano duet and two pianos, which she bought with her otherwise useless currency. She couldn't read the Cyrillic script and didn't fully appreciate what she'd acquired.

The haul included a deeply impressive piano duet version of Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Overture, arranged, according to the frontispiece, by N Rimsky-Korsakov, as in Russia's great orchestral colourist and composer of Scheherazade, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The Goldstone-Clemmow team immediately incorporated the overture into their repertoire, and, says Anthony Goldstone, "played it hundreds of times, completely under false pretences, though we didn't know it at the time". In the course of their careers, they have established a network of contacts who are specialists in sheet- music collection, some of them, according to Goldstone, "complete obsessives". Two things happened. One of these contacts discovered that the Romeo and Juliet Overture transcription (also featured on this trailblazing new CD) was not, in fact, made by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The N stood for Nadezhda, and the transcription was made by Rimsky-Korsakov's wife; but that's another story altogether. At the same time, Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow were looking for appropriate music to put with the Romeo and Juliet Overture to form a cohesive concert programme. They, too, knew of the footnote in Grove's about the arrangement of the Fourth Symphony, and put the word out on their network. The word came winging back from one of their friendly "obsessives" that not only did he know of the arrangement, but he actually possessed a copy of it in an ancient edition published in Leipzig. The husband and wife fell on it, devoured it, and were stunned at the quality of Taneyev's transcription. It is, indeed, mind-blowing. Everything in the symphony is there. There is no pianistic trickery or fakery to simulate orchestral effects, apart from occasional tremolo figures to mimic the timpani or the continuous sound of the strings. It is an absolutely straightforward transcription, dazzlingly effected by Taneyev and gloriously played by Goldstone and Clemmow, which somehow, without the glittering orchestration on which you would think the symphony absolutely depends, succeeds in capturing the spirit and emotionalism of the piece. It requires just a moment of the listener to adjust the mindset away from the familiar orchestral drapery of the piece. Once you're into it, it is gripping. The detail of the inner workings of the composition that shines through is phenomenal. It amounts to a real complement to the orchestral version, which will enhance the experience of the symphony for all those who love it deeply.

Last weekend I managed to track down the pianists, who perform their duet act on the telephone just as fluidly as they do at the keyboard; and, though they have now known the work for some time, they are still as excited with their discovery as when it landed on their desk. "It's like a black-and-white film as opposed to a colour film. You hear the bones of the work more, the structure, bits of texture, and all manner of details that you haven't noticed before. Yet, it loses none of its immediacy and pungency."
Two practical points to make. In exactly a year, the Goldstone-Clemmow team is coming to Scotland. They are proposing to bring a Tchaikovsky programme with them. At the moment, they have just two engagements secured on the music club circuit. I would strongly urge Scotland's network of music societies to investigate this new recording, and get on the phone to the pianists; their contact details are in the Tours Book issued to all societies by Enterprise Music Scotland. Book them, and ask for the symphony - which, so far, they have played in concert only three times - and the Romeo and Juliet Overture. It will guarantee a sensational night in your society (as long as there is a decent piano for them to play).
Second point. How to get the CD. You almost certainly won't find it in the shops, though it can be ordered that way. The recording has been made by the enterprising one-man company, The Divine Art - another interesting yarn to be spun one day. Best way to get hold of a copy (at about £12.99 and worth every nickel) is direct from the company. See below for the address. One last point, for any pianists interested in investigating the transcription. Goldstone and Clemmow are unaware of any modern-day publication of the score, but feel sure that there are probably copies in university libraries or other specialist libraries.
Michael Tumelty

There are several good reasons to buy this fascinating programme. First, to hear examples of the work of Sergei Taneyev, Tchaikovsky's composition student, the soloist in the Moscow premiere of his master's First Piano Concerto, a trusted friend and critic; and of the gifted Nadezhda Purgold, aka Mrs Rimsky-Korsakov , commended by Tchaikovsky to his publishers for her expert transcriptions. Second, to admire the ingenuity of the piano reductions from symphonic score to four-hands-one-piano. Think again if this prompts notions of nice little piano duets to amuse audiences of the pre-gramophone era. Both transcribers divide the material between the four hands so skilfully that, if you shut off your aural recall of the originals, it is easy to be convinced that both symphony and overture must have had their origins in this form. Indeed, many thematic and contrapuntal devices reveal themselves more clearly than in their familiar orchestral garb.

The selection of 16 Russian folksongs from the 50 duets commissioned from Tchaikovsky himself in 1868 provide an agreeable "now where have I heard that before" conclusion to the disc. The impeccable precision, tonal allure and stylish panache of Goldstone and Clemmow's playing is sheer pleasure, and they are handsomely recorded.
Jeremy Nicholas

The question, as always in recordings of four-hand piano arrangements of orchestral works, is whether the piano arrangement and its performance are rewarding in their own terms. In this case, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Moreover, both arrangements featured here are of historical interest, the symphony undertaken by Tchaikovsky’s best-known student, Sergei Taneyev (1856–1915), and that of Romeo and Juliet undertaken by Nadezhda Purgold (1848–1919), better known as Mme. Rimsky-Korsakov. Her skills in adapting Tchaikovsky’s chestnut to the four-hand medium reveal a formidable talent; indeed, she was more thoroughly “trained” as a composer than her famous husband, who regarded her as one of his chief influences. She arranged several works by both her husband and Tchaikovsky for their publisher Bessel.

The married piano duo Goldstone and Clemmow bring a satisfying tensile energy and spring to their reading of the first movement of the symphony, details always building toward forward motion. The gradually lengthening phrases in the first movement’s second subject reveal subtle details of Tchaikovsky’s structural logic. The stormy climax of the development combines controlled clarity and impressive, volcanic energy.

Goldstone and Clemmow show themselves keenly attuned to the ebb and flow of music, and to each other. Particularly impressive is their second movement, with its seemingly spontaneous and elastic application of warm agogic accents and unanimity of expression. The transcription of the finale is remarkably pianistic, exploiting the full range of the instrument and even finding suitable equivalents of Tchaikovsky’s percussive effects. Certainly, a single piano texture is incapable of fully duplicating the movement’s coruscating orchestral effects, and crashing interruptions, even with four hands. Still, it is a swashbuckling, and musically substantial, performance.

One is immediately gripped by the connected, mounting energy in the opening chorale of Romeo and Juliet . More flamboyantly virtuosic and texturally complex than Taneyev’s straightforward transcription of the symphony, this is a showpiece that should feature more often in recitals. The duo brings a springing, leaping energy to the fugal development of the first subject, and a variegated touch and revelatory attention to inner voices in the famous second subject, which has here far more than the expected textural interest. The development section profits from the complex interplay of connected and detached textures, propelled by the pianists’ canny sense of dynamic shaping.

The disc is rounded out with a generous helping of excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s set of 50 arrangements for piano four hands. In their booklet essay, the pianists liken the composer's collection to the later folkloric collecting and transcription efforts of Béla Bartók. While this claim may seem exaggerated, they present the sequence of arrangements simply and objectively, but with energy. These brief and often unelaborated snippets will mostly be familiar not just to Tchaikovsky aficionados but connoisseurs of Russian music in general. The recording is natural and reverberant, with no distortion and full bloom around the keyboards. This disc is great fun; seek it out!
Christopher Williams

Before the invention of recording, apart from attendance at live concerts, the only way that people could hear the symphonies and other orchestral works was at the piano. Liszt and other composers wrote virtuoso transcriptions for the solo pianist. However, piano duets were very popular as it was much easier to produce all the notes needed to give a fair approximation of the orchestral original. Thus four handed versions of great orchestral works were much in demand.

Taneyev was a pupil of Tchaikovsky and a fine and prolific composer some of whose works are still played today. The transcription is a good one, but to listeners who know the original orchestral version well, the music sounds strangely bare and reminds us of what a master of the orchestra Tchaikovsky was. A transcription must be judged on its own terms and it really is an interesting experience to be able to concentrate on the music rather than on the orchestral sound; the structure becomes much more clear and one ends up by feeling one knows the work better and in a different light.

Rimsky-Korsakov was a contemporary of Tchaikovsky. In 1872 he married Ndezlda Purgold. She was beautiful (as demonstrated by her picture on the front cover of the disc) and a good pianist and composer and was a great influence on Rimsky-Korsakov. She was an expert of the art of transcribing large scale works for four hands and had done so for her husband’s works The transcription is excellent, if anything more expressive that that of the Symphony and it is very interesting and satisfying to listen to.

In 1868 and 1869, Tchaikovsky was commissioned by the publisher Jurgenson to arrange 50 Russian Folk Songs for piano duet. These are very straight-forward arrangements without any development and with endings that were often sudden and abrupt. Many of the 16 played on this disc are very well known, some appearing ion works of Tchaikovsky himself and one appears in Stravinsky’s Petrushka. The disc ends with the famous Volga Boat Song. A fascinating and enjoyable piece of little known Tchaikovsky.

The piano duo Goldstone and Clemmow was formed in 1984 and Anthony and Caroline married in 1989. They are a very successful duo and have issued 23 CDs and have played all over the world. Their playing on this CD is a fine example of their art and the disc can be recommended strongly. The excellent notes are written by Goldstone and Clemmow (with some help from Tchaikovsky!) and the presentation of the disc is attractive.
Arthur Baker

MUSICWEB: (slightly edited to remove long technical passages)
When I first approached this disc, I had almost convinced myself that I probably would not like it. I am after all a keen admirer of Tchaikovsky’s brilliant skill at orchestration. I did not feel that such a wonderfully orchestrated work as the Fourth Symphony would transfer well to a keyboard instrument. I was to be proved wrong. It is true that there is much missing, but instead of just being missing, there is a lot more which you can hear which is otherwise masked by orchestral clothing.

The arrangement here is by Sergei Taneyev, who was a friend of the master and teacher of Glière, Scriabin, Medtner and Rachmaninov. He was a significant composer in his own right. Incidentally, when asked by the composer at its first performance what he thought of the symphony, he was none too complimentary, saying “… Although there were some superb bits in it … the first movement is disproportionately long … The trumpet fanfares … make you think that this is programme music. Nevertheless I like the movement very much … The Andantino is exceedingly nice … The scherzo is excellent; I don’t like the trio which is like a dance out of a ballet. I think your variations on the (the folk song which forms the subsidiary theme in the finale) too slight and insufficiently interesting. One of this symphony’s failings … is that in each movement there is something which recalls ballet music …”

Whatever his misgivings, Taneyev makes a very successful transcription of the symphony and the two pianists are thoroughly idiomatic in conveying the emotional centre of the work, the first movement. Tchaikovsky’s emotional state at the time was largely determined by his disastrous marriage and its demise. In the arrangement, there are many touching moments. Some of Tchaikovsky's detailed harmonies sound quite different without the colouring of the full orchestra.

The Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture has been transcribed by Nadezhda Purgold, who was a pianist, but is perhaps better known as Madame Rimsky-Korsakov. It is rather ironic that this reduction to four hands, was done by the spouse of a musician who was responsible for some of the most colourful compositions known. The sombre opening sequence is made dark by the deep colours of the pianos and does not seem in the slightest out of character. The more emotional climaxes of the Montagues and Capulets fight scenes, where the searing trumpet is usually to be heard soaring over the orchestral mayhem, misses some of the drama. However the superlative playing of Goldstone and Clemmow offer a different kind of drama.

We then lead on to the arrangements for two pianos of Tchaikovsky’s Fifty Russian Folk Songs, each of which were written for two pianos by the composer himself. Each song lasts less than a minute in many cases and to some extent these foreshadow Bartók’s and Kodaly’s work with Hungarian and Romanian folk music. This in no way diminishes Tchaikovsky’s work in this area. Some of these tunes will be immediately recognisable to those who know Tchaikovsky’s orchestral works reasonably well.

The recording quality could be clearer, but is in no way a handicap, and this could in any event be more to do with the church acoustic. Highly recommended. Tracks 1, 3, 5 and 6 are commended for sampling. Five "Ludwigs"
John Phillips

I must alert you to a most exciting disc, designed to please lovers of Tchaikovsky, keyboard music and beautiful music in general. Pianists Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow have taken two major orchestral pieces by Tchaikovsky in transcriptions for "four hands at one piano" and recorded them on the Divine Art label (25020). The program notes begin with a quotation of Benjamin Britten that a transcription "doesn't affect the original work - it just makes a new one".

So here we have the complete Symphony No. 4 and the Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasia in transcriptions for piano duo and as a bonus 16 from the composer's Fifty Russian Folk Songs , written originally for piano duo. I try to collect all I can of piano transcriptions because I find it brings me so much closer to the structure of the music, a structure that is sometimes not appreciated as one revels in the magnificent orchestration. I find that I play the piano versions of the nine Beethoven symphonies more than I do the orchestral ones, and I certainly prefer the original piano version of Gershwin's An American in Paris to the better-known version with an orchestration not the composer's.

For the record, the transcriber of the Symphony No.4 is Sergei Taneyev and of the Romeo Nadezhda Purgold (Mrs Rimsky-Korsakov). Our pianists here, of course, make both their own. Fabulous playing and a definite "grabbit".
Frank Behrens

Obviously, most music lovers are familiar with this symphony, one of the most magnificent Tchaikovskian creations but this arrangement for four hands will strike you like a bomb! Goldstone and Clemmow play the Tanayev arrangement to the manner born and they also manage to bring a subtle intimacy to the music that is really wonderful. The wonderful Andante takes on an almost Chopinesque like harmony whilst the rumbustious Finale is an astonishing 'tour-de-force'.

The 'Romeo and Juliet' is, if anything, more successful than the symphony with its wonderful melodies and dashing dialogue between the two pianists. I was completely taken aback by the intricacy of Mme Rimsky Korsakov's arrangement; maybe we could now have the Scheherazade on two pianos please?  Divine Art's pristine presentation, copious notes and a stunning recording is certainly a combination for a winner. Lovers of piano music and such fantastic arrangements alike cannot fail to garner huge enjoyment out of this superb disc.
Gerald Fenech

NARKIVE: joint review with 25028 - edited
I would like to draw attention to two marvellous recordings featuring familiar music in unfamiliar form but in a form in which many people of the relevant time would have heard the works first.

Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow (husband and wife team) recorded for Olympia some years a four hands one piano version of Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade to which I think I called attention.

They have continued their work on exploring the four hands one piano repertoire with two further discs for the UK Divine Art label. I have had the benefit of listening to these two gifted artists many times and I think their latest recordings will make them many friends.

Divine Art 25020 contains an astonishing performance of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 4 in the arrangement entrusted by the composer to Taneyev who, of course, was the composer's choice for the first performance of Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1 when Taneyev was only 19.

To say that the first movement contains some barnstorming pianism is an understatement, I think, but with these two intelligent artists in never descends into "noise". I can only imagine how much crosshand work there must be in this. The second movement: Andantino in modo di canzona has never sounded more beautiful or more noble so far as I am concerned and of course the Scherzo is "made" for this sort of transcription with the answering voices and *that* piccolo part in the treble. Again wonderful pianism from both players in the Allegro con fuoco and very nearly at "Svetlanov" speed.

There follows a transcription of the Romeo and Juliet Overture:Fantasia in an arrangement by Nadezhda Purgold (Mrs Rimsky-Korsakov), a very fine pianist and transcriber in her own right and whose great beauty adorns the cover. Most of the Rimsky arrangements are by her hand. The very opening of this piece heard in this form reminds one how very "Russian" this music is. The disc concludes with a delightful performance of 16 of "Fifty Russian Folk Songs" including the familiar Volga Boat Song (The Barge Haulers, reminding us that this was originally a "work" song). You can play "spot the tune" and where you know it from with some of the other pieces.

In the days before regular concerts most of these works would have first been heard in the home in the form presented on these recordings but I would think very few would have achieved the easy virtuosity which is on display.

In Anthony's intelligent notes which grace [the album] he quotes Britten's view of transcriptions: "It doesn't affect the original work - it just makes a new one...I support the idea of transcriptions against many who think it can only judge by the value of the transcription."

My judgment is that these are all great transcriptions and I do not think a single movement of any of this music loses anything - in fact I suspect many people, as I have, will listen to these familiar pieces with new and enhanced respect.

[The CD has] a beautiful natural piano sound recorded in St John the Baptist Church in the North Lincolnshire village of Alkborough where Anthony and Caroline have their home.
Alan M. Watkins

With music now so readily available on radio and disc, it is difficult to think of a time when local pianists playing piano transcriptions would have been the only way many people could hear symphonies performed. To give more weight and musical substance, they were often arranged for four hands at one piano, the Lincolnshire-based duo, Goldstone and Clemmow, giving a highly enjoyable account of Sergei Taneyev's red-blooded version of the Fourth Symphony. It stands well as a piano work in its own right, although Romeo and Juliet is less convincing. Not so keen on the piano tone, but it's well worth hearing.
Performance * * * *
David Denton