October 15, 2020


Liszt: Two Scenes from Lenau’s “Faust”; Dvořák: Slavonic Dances Nos. 1, 2 and 8; Gounod: Love Duet and Waltz from “Faust”; Benjamin Godard: Berceuse from “Jocelyn”; Bizet: Overture from “Carmen”; Milhaud: Le Boeuf sur le toit. Zeynep Ucbasaran and Sergio Gallo, piano four hands. Divine Art. $18.99.

Luigi Dallapiccola: Musica per tre pianoforte; Ahmet Adnan Saygun: Poem, Op. 73; Server Acim: Fikir Hücreleri (Idea Cells); Edson Zampronha: S’io esca vivo (If I Escape Alive); José Zárate: Petit Nocturne Noir; Kamran Ince: Requiem for Mehmet. Zeynep Ucbasaran, Miguel Ortega Chavaldas and Sergio Gallo, pianos. Divine Art. $18.99.

     Sometimes the sheer quality of music-making makes a disc worth having even if the repertoire is on the light side and scarcely unfamiliar. Zeynep Ucbasaran and Sergio Gallo are such a wonderful piano-four-hands team that their new Divine Art offering of music by Liszt and Milhaud, with a few shorter works thrown in to fill out the disc, is a genuine pleasure. This is true even though the CD is rather oddly arranged: it has a distinct Faustian focus, but with material scattered somewhat arbitrarily. The two comparatively substantial Liszt works are heard first; then the three short ones by Dvořák; then the arrangement of O nuit d’amour from Gounod’s Faust; then the pleasant little Berceuse by Godard (1849-1895), that composer’s best-known work; then the Bizet; then Gounod’s Faust again, the opera’s famous waltz this time; and finally the delightfully jazzy Milhaud work, a piece more on the scale of Liszt’s. Ucbasaran and Gallo seem very much at home in the piano-four-hands material here, playing everything sure-handedly (so to speak) and complementing each other in exactly the right way to make these versions of the works as effective as possible, even if none comes across quite as well as in their more-familiar orchestral guise. The Liszt pieces are standouts: Der nächtliche Zug is far less familiar than Der Tanz un der Dorfschenke, better known as Mephisto Waltz No. 1, but both are excellently illustrative of their material (drawn from a Faust verse drama, not from Goethe’s version) and played very impressively. The more-lyrical short pieces also come across quite well: Slavonic Dance No. 2, Godard’s Berceuse, and the Gounod waltz. Where the performances pale a bit is in the brighter and more-upbeat or more-intense material: Slavonic Dances Nos. 1 and 8 could use more verve, the Carmen overture has less exoticism and menace than it can possess, and Milhaud’s often-silly foray into distinctly jazz-inflected composition really needs more insouciance and faster pacing than it gets here. The absence of familiar orchestral touches is also felt especially acutely in the Bizet and Milhaud works, in which the instrumentation is responsible for a considerable amount of the effect and effectiveness of the music. Ucbasaran and Gallo make a formidable piano-four-hands team, and the quality of their playing will be enough to endear this recording to pianists and to listeners who enjoy hearing the piano played with considerable aplomb, if not always with abandon.

     Joined by Miguel Ortega Chavaldas, Ucbasaran and Gallo offer a recital of a very different kind on another Divine Art disc, whose audience will likely be somewhat limited by the nature of the repertoire – but, again, certainly not by the very high quality of the playing. This CD bears the title “The 3-Piano Project,” and that designation helps explain the unusual material it offers: neither the works nor their composers (from Turkey, Brazil, Spain and Italy) will likely be well-known to most listeners. The attraction here involves listening to a little-used instrumental combination, since “ensembles” of pianos are something of a rarity: with the exception of the 5 Browns, there are no well-known groups specializing in multiple-piano offerings. The paucity of three-piano compositions is of course part of the reason for this; and while several of the works on this CD are interesting enough, at least in part, none is sufficiently compelling to make it likely that three-piano groups will spring up as regular concert or recital features. The best-known composer here is Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-1975), whose fame rests on his serial compositions but who was doing some aural exploration even before he wholeheartedly embraced the Second Viennese School. Musica per tre pianoforti, also called Inni (“Hymn”), is one of Dallapiccola’s earlier pieces, dating to 1935, and it shows considerable command of writing for the piano. The first movement is comparatively straightforward, but the second, with its deep, grumbling opening, shows what can be accomplished in the three-piano vein, and the third, which opens with a single line and gradually layers on greater and greater sonic complexity, is a fascinating blend of lightness and chordal strength. The other major piece on this disc is Poem by Ahmet Adnan Saygun (1907-1991), which here receives its world première recording. It is a pleasant enough work, well-constructed and attentive to the interactions among the three pianists, and it manages a degree of lyricism despite its use of sometimes-acerbic 20th-century compositional techniques. But it has a hesitant quality about it, as if not quite sure how poetic it wants to be, and it does not sustain especially well over its 15-minute length. The remaining four works here are shorter and less ambitious. Fikir Hücreleri by Server Acim (1961-2019) stops and starts at irregular intervals and does indeed seem to be a series of “Idea Cells” rather than anything developed in any significant way. S’io esca vivo by Edson Zampronha (born 1963) is scalar and repetitive, its dissonances used to no particular purpose. Petit Nocturne Noir by José Zárate (born 1972) is suitably moody and dark, slow-paced and repeatedly fading to silence, the reasons for its need for three pianos being less than apparent. Requiem for Mehmet by Kamran Ince (born 1960) is, in contrast, big-boned and strongly scored, dramatically portentous from the start and quite determined to use the full sonic capabilities of the three instruments. Unfortunately, it never really goes anywhere: it keeps hinting that it will, that it is building up to something, but all that happens, eventually, is a kind of dissolution. The attraction of this disc lies in its concept (three pianos) and the quality of the performances (excellent), but much less so in the music itself. Except for Dallapiccola’s work, nothing here is gripping enough or sufficiently intriguing in its use of the pianos to make a listener wish for a great deal more three-piano material of the same kind.

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