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Classical home listening: a fab piano four hands, Louise Farrenc and the Proms

·2 min read

• Playing piano four hands – two people, one piano – is among the more intimate forms of music-making. Daniel Barenboim never passes up a chance to play duets with his childhood friend Martha Argerich: you hear that intimacy in their recordings. But this “domestic” music can also sound grand, exuberant, revolutionary. In Mozart: Sonatas for Piano Four Hands KV521 & KV497 (Myrios Classics), the Russian-American pianist Kirill Gerstein sits down with Ferenc Rados, a Hungarian legend among musicians. His pupils, among others, include András Schiff. Consider that. The notes tell how a young Gerstein met Rados, now 86, at a masterclass at Prussia Cove, Cornwall in 2004. “My playing irritated [Rados] so much that these three hours seemed like a public dismemberment.” Gerstein went on to study with Ferenc, and calls him the biggest influence in his musical life.

The C major sonata, here, is witty, bold, conversational, with plenty of spontaneous ornaments from Gerstein. The F major (with Ferenc playing “primo”) has an almost symphonic grandeur and weight. Documenting this reluctant maestro’s nuanced, muscular playing for posterity was Gerstein’s aim. The disc is one to treasure.

• The French virtuoso pianist, teacher and composer Louise Farrenc (1804-75) had a career as a concert pianist, but composition was always her passion. She fought for recognition, and equality, all her life. Farrenc’s Symphonies 1 & 3, performed by the Insula Orchestra, conducted by Laurence Equilbey (Erato), are early Romantic works that should be in every orchestra’s repertoire. Equilbey and her period instrument ensemble recorded the symphonies live at a concert in their Paris home, La Seine Musicale, in March this year.

Farrenc’s piano and chamber music are now fairly well established, but her strong, impassioned symphonic writing still has to catch up. No 1 in C minor (1841) begins almost politely then explodes furiously: you hear echoes of Mendelssohn especially, and early Beethoven, but the particular drama and intensity are hers alone. No 3 in G minor (1949) shares that same vitality and purpose. For the woodwind writing alone, brilliant and unusual, this music stands out from the symphonic crowd, played here with style.

• Live from the Royal Albert Hall, the BBC Proms 2021 launch with Vaughan Williams, Poulenc, Sibelius and a new work by James MacMillan, When Soft Voices Die. Friday 30 July, 7.30pm, Radio 3/BBC Sounds; first half live on BBC Two, 8pm; second half on BBC Four, 9.05pm.

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