Dukas: La Peri Falla: The Three-Cornered Hat; Harpsichord Concerto Jan de Gaetani, Igor Kipnis New York Philharmonic / Pierre Boulez (Recorded 1975) (Sony Classical SMK 68 333)

Schubert: works for piano (four hands) Anne Queffelec and Imogen Cooper (Recorded 1978) (Erato 0630-11231-2; two discs)
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
When it comes to symphonic brass fanfares, none that I know of surpasses the regal prelude to Paul Dukas's exotic "Poeme danse en un tableau", a hugely uplifting pronouncement, unmistakably Gallic in flavour, though textured with just a hint of Wagner (or at least that's how Boulez makes it sound).

The ballet's story-line concerns the Flower of Immortality, while the "Poeme danse" itself suggests a well-known Sorcerer turned Sorceress, with piquant - sometimes even lavish - orchestration, sensual harmonies and more than a smidgen of Rimsky, Ravel and Roussel. Boulez and his players create a sumptuous sound-stage, whereas their handling of Falla's versicoloured Three-Cornered Hat ballet (so much more substantial than the three-movement suite) is prone to excess weight, especially at the start of the "Dance of the Miller's Wife".

The score opens to trumpets, drums and the rattle of castanets, while the familiar dance sequences are further enhanced by a wealth of material not normally heard - including impressionistic action music, a cheeky side-glance at Beethoven's Fifth and a plaintive song that warns husbands of the devil (sensitively sung by Jan de Gaetani).

Both here and in Falla's astringently neo-classical Harpsichord Concerto, Boulez prompts some notably delicate instrumental solos. Sony's resonant, though generally atmospheric, recording should please all but the anti- analogue lobby.

Virtually all you need of Schubert's output for four-hand piano is included in this uncommonly generous set, and what wonderful music it is! Each of the two CDs tops the 75-minute mark and is dominated by one of two substantial masterpieces, the first by the dark and eventful Fantasie in F minor (with its unforgettably poignant opening melody), the second by the symphonically proportioned Grand Duo in C. Both works have, in the past, inspired well-meaning orchestrations, but Schubert's superb originals will brook no "improvement".

Of the shorter works programmed, two in particular are indelibly memorable: the fiery Lebenssturme in A minor and a heart-rending Rondo in A, composed just six months before Schubert died and as serenely beautiful as anything to be found in the "late" piano sonatas.

Those are the "biggies". The rest of the set is made up of tuneful lighter fare - the charming (and sometimes harmonically surprising) Polonaises D824, the Variations on an Original Theme (9 minutes 12 seconds in length rather than the portentous 19mins 12secs suggested by both box and booklet), three familiar Marches militaires and then the winsome but ambitious "Andantino varie" from the Divertissement a la francaise. As to the performances, all share a common warmth, straightforwardness and rhythmic security. The sound is admirably clear.