Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Debussy & Ravel: Music for Two Pianos

“Ashkenazy père et fils… clearly having much fun, especially in Rapsodie espagnol, drawing a wide range of colour, and some wonderfully delicate shading.” --BBC Music Magazine ***

“Father and son join forces here with winning élan. Vladimir Ashkenazy is one of the great pianists of modern times, with a legacy of landmark solo and concerto recordings to challenge anybody’s. His son Vovka has inherited the genes and, on disc, has collaborated in performances of chamber music by Tchaikovsky, Arensky, Poulenc and Ravel.” --The Telegraph ****

Vladimir Ashkenazy seemed intent on recording everything in the standard repertoire when he was at the height of his solo piano career in the 1970s. Inevitably, critics would arise to express doubt that one musician could cover so much material so fast, and get it right. One of his contemporaries, the even more prolific conductor Neville Marriner, heard the same complaints. For this listener, the charges do not really hold up in either case. I will admit that there are few cases where I would choose a recording by these artists for my desert-island collection (you know, that wonderful island that happens to be equipped with a state of the art, solar-powered stereo system), even as I continue to marvel at their consistent level of excellence. I think I would be perfectly happy, though, to have Ashkenazy’s Chopin on the island, which, by virtue of his extraordinary dexterity, clarity, and natural pulse is as good as any other. It is true that Ashkenazy can “prettify” some music, Beethoven, for example, but that may be partially due to the naturally beautiful finish to his technique.

With this program of Debussy and Ravel, it is hard to make the music too pretty. The Ashkenazy sound suits this lush, delicately textured music well. This is my first encounter with the son of famed Vladimir. Vovka Ashkenazy was born in Moscow, and moved to Iceland with his family at the age of six. His teachers included Leon Fleisher, Peter Frankl, and his father. His brother Dmitri is also a professional pianist. From what I can tell, his growing discography is dominated by chamber music playing, including a previous father and son outing, also from Decca. It is not easy to differentiate between the pianists on this recording, which can be taken as a high compliment to Vovka Ashkenazy. They achieve a high level of clarity and precise coordination, just the ticket for a four-hand piano recital. The closer, La valse, is no less controlled, but with the requisite raucousness to show that the Ashkenazy family knows how to have some fun. --FANFARE: Peter Burwasser

MP3 320 · 149 MB

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