The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Paul Lewis and Steven Osborne French Duets HHHHH
Hyperion, out March 5
You may think an album of piano duets isn’t very exciting fare. But you’d be wrong; this is one of the most exhilarating CDs to have come my way in months. The British pianists Paul Lewis and Steven Osborne are both exceptional talents in the prime of their careers.
Their playing is spectacular, and brilliantly caught by the engineers in a little-known venue with amazing acoustics, the Saffron Hall in Essex.
But the real attraction here, of course, is the music, a programme of French duets containing some of the finest music ever written for duettists. Fauré’s Dolly Suite will be familiar to those of us of a certain age, who listened with mother. This present to the young daughter of his mistress Emma Bardac is full of great tunes.
Quite a girl, Emma. She later married Debussy, who is represented here by two contrasted works from each end of his career: the tuneful Petite Suite (1888) and the more complex Epigraphes Antiques he put together when short of cash in 1914, while already fatally ill. Poulenc’s Sonata For Four Hands is a vigorous piece from a teenage composer. Stravinsky’s Three Easy Pieces (they’re not) is from a composer wishing to show us how clever he is. But the real masterpiece here is Ravel’s Mother Goose, full of fascinating sonorities and memorable tunes.
The finale, The Enchanted Garden, is, for me, deeply moving. Nothing better has ever been written for piano duet.