Le Prophete: Works for Four Hands Stephanie McCallum, Erin Helyard trptk There is something absorbingly theatrical when two pianists play together at the same keyboard. Watching four hands continually reaching over and under each other is entertaining enough, but because the repertoire for this combination consists of vast numbers of arrangements of symphonies and operas published during the 19th century, it conjures images of the stage. These arrangements gave amateur pianists of the day the ability to recreate grand public works in a smaller scale at home.
An illuminating glimpse into this domestic realm of 19th-century culture comes in a program of Giacomo Meyerbeer, CharlesValentin Alkan and Ignaz Moscheles from Australian pianists Stephanie McCallum and Erin Helyard. It’s not great music: much relies on melodramatic effect, and the influence of Liszt in his more bombastic throes is all too apparent. Nevertheless, it elicits some marvellously spontaneous and enjoyable music-making from this pair of artists. The album gains its name from Meyerbeer’s Le Prophete, a bio-opera about 16th-century Anabaptist leader John of Leiden. Its overture is riddled with romantic-era cliches and wears a bit thin with its bombastic passage-work and overworked hero theme.
Far superior are Alkan’s Neuf Preludes: although these occasionally also resort to wellworn pianist rhetoric of the day, their darker moods and noble sentiment are memorable. To end, Moscheles’s unpretentious Hommage a Weber makes a high-spirited parlour party piece that exploits the potential of 10 fingers to fullest advantage.