Mind Meld - Works For Piano Four Hands / Zofo Duet
STRAVINSKY The Rite of Spring. SHAPERO Sonata for Piano 4-Hands. DEBUSSY 6 Épigraphes Antiques & • Eva-Maria Zimmermann, Keisuke Nakagoshi (pn) • SONO LUMINUS DSL 92151 (67:28)
& BERNSTEIN Candide: Overture
These two fine pianists have been playing together under the name Zofo since 2009, and have toured America and Japan. They display tight ensemble and are of one mind in matters of tempo and expression, as duo-piano teams need to be, without having the individuality of the drily austere Kontarsky brothers or the showy and virtuosic Labèque sisters. (But then, Zimmermann and Nakagoshi are not twins!)
Their program contains some interesting music. I have never been fully convinced of the worth of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in a four-hand piano transcription. From the very first bars, which depend so much on the unique sound of the bassoon in its high register, this work needs the colors and weight of an orchestra. Even so, this arrangement has been recorded several times, most notably for Angel by the young Michael Tilson Thomas and Ralph Grierson in an exciting and convincing account. Zofo is by comparison rather straightforward. While they find the primitive energy the score demands, they are at their best in quiet moments like the opening of the Second Part, The Sacrifice . In Charlie Harmon’s arrangement of Bernstein’s overture to Candide they are bright and thankfully not rushed (as some orchestral versions are), but again I find the music does not gain a lot from being experienced in black and white.
The best parts of this program are the pieces originally intended for the medium. Debussy’s languorous Épigraphs Antiques are ideal for this duo, which responds winningly to the subtle colors and delicacy of the writing. I would go so far as to say this is the finest recording I know of this sensual work. The real find, however, is the four-hand sonata by Harold Shapero, an American composer who was a contemporary of Bernstein and is still with us (as of this writing) at the age of 92. As a young man Shapero studied with Krenek, Piston, and Hindemith, but his most distinguished teacher was Nadia Boulanger. This three-movement, 16-minute sonata shows the influence of Stravinsky overall, unsurprisingly, in its sharp edged textures and rhythms, yet there is also a lyrical impulse that I can only describe as American. Like the best of the American neoclassicists, Shapero took a pared-back, unemotional European style and brought warmth to it. The piece was premiered in 1941 by the composer and Bernstein, who played two-piano and four-hand music together for a few years until Lenny became too busy with other projects. (Indeed, there is more than a hint of Bernstein in a couple of Shapero’s melodic figures.) Zofo responds to both the hard edge and the underlying lyricism, and once again the tempos seem absolutely right.
The sound quality is excellent, spacious and clear. Recommended, particularly for the Debussy and the Shapero.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott
Catalog Number: DSL-92151
Label: Sono Luminus
Composer: Claude Debussy, Harold Shapero, Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein
Orchestra/Ensemble: ZOFO Duet