Dvořák, Grieg, Brahms
Music for Piano Four Hands
Claire Chevallier & Jos van Immerseel, piano
Alpha Classics, 2017
The popularity that music for piano four hands had in the 19th century is revived in this magnificent selection of Dances written by three of the most representative composers of that time: Antonin Dvořák, who wrote sixteen Slavonic Dances between 1878 and 1886 under the influence of Brahms’s Hungarian Dances; Edvard Grieg, who was so impressed by Norwegian folk music to reuse it in the Norwegian Dances he composed in 1883; and finally Johannes Brahms, who found inspiration for his twenty-one Hungarian Dances while living in Vienna.
In the booklet notes, pianist Jos van Immerseel points out that he and his colleague Claire Chevallier perform these pieces on a Bechstein piano of 1870, «a straight-strung piano of the kind in use at the time. Straight-strung pianos were usually much more expensive than overstrung instruments, because their construction was more labour-intensive than the latter. But, on the other hand, straight-strung concert grands usually sound much more transparent and noticeably clearer in the bass than their (modern) overstrung equivalents».
Immerseel and Chevallier are two accomplished pianists and to hear the twenty-two folk dances performed by them is wonderful. They play superbly well together and their journey through the music of Dvořák, Brahms and Grieg is absolutely thrilling. They have also given a peculiar character to each of the three sets of compositions, allowing to guess to which one of them a particular number belongs, even if the listener is not familiar to these extremely popular works.
Brahms’s Hungarian Dances are perhaps the most varied set for inspiration and feelings, but they too do not escape the general rule. They form the melancholic part of the recording as this feeling is always present, directly or indirectly, even in the most animated parts of each piece.
After them, Grieg’s Norwegian Dances are thoughtful, temperate, though the three pieces are expressions of different kinds of “thoughtfulness”, being the first the most restless, the second the most contemplative and the third the merriest. The sound is in these compositions a little more sombre in comparison with Brahms and especially with the following Dvořák.
Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances are in fact cheerful, bright, even when it comes to quiet pieces as the delightful, melancholic Dumka, and never loses a charming, joyful shade, which can be rendered with the magnificence of the first Furiant or with the lightness of the Sousedská, just to cite two of them. What associates the last group of Dances is their strong luminosity; they are the merriest pieces of the collection and there are enchanting for the youthful, light-hearted spirit that Immerseel and Chevallier give them.
The last note I would like to add is that the programme is surprisingly coherent and the three sets of Dances, though inspired by (apparently) distant music from Hungary, Norway and from Slavonic folklore, give rise to a homogenous recording, moreover embellished by the skill of two admirable performer as Chevallier and Immerseel.
This is definitely an album that deserves to be enjoyed from the beginning to the end without interruption.