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Album available for purchase as of February 1st 2009.
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Reviews

Source: "Clavier Companion," January/February 2011, under Chamber Music

"The Kantorski-Pope performance of the Brahms Hungarian Dances is truly a valuable addition to the discography; the pair extracts an abundance of flavors, ideas, and drama. Their playing highlights the layered character of this original four-hand piano version through exceptional clarity of sound, superb voicing, and a masterful combination of pedal and dynamics. Each dance is rich with texture, yet never exaggerated or overstated, with both the sixth and twelfth dances particularly effective examples. The duo's delightful tempo and character changes are best exemplified in the seventeenth dance. Here, the sorrowful, slow opening contrasts with a sweet, music box-like section, while the heroic conclusion is peppered with brilliant running notes."

::Minyoung Lee
:: Assistant Professor of Piano in Residence
:: University of Connecticut


Valrie Kantorski and Ann Almond Pope's recording of
Johannes Brahms's 21 Hungarian Dances for Piano Four-Hands

The new Kantorski-Pope recording of Brahms's 21 Hungarian Dances is the liveliest, most engaging, and most stylish one I know. It is as if these two native Americans were really born on the Hungarian Puszta and miraculously appeared in an American recording studio. Their performance captures the zest, the sadness, and the accents of the music with nuances I never heard before, inner voices and connections between the bass part and the upper part which I never thought about. In all 21 tracks there is not a dull moment. Their ensemble is impeccable, their tempos just right. I've tried hard to find something to fault -- however gently -- and I can't. I want one for all my friends!

Styra Avins, Author of “Johannes Brahms:
Life and Letters


The twenty-one Hungarian Dances composed by Johannes Brahms are in many ways a study of the changing nature of the composer and audience in the late nineteenth century. Brahms composed the work for two players at a single piano: an ensemble that speaks to a kind of communal – even familial – music making that was common in the nineteenth century. While every respectable European city had an opera company with an opera orchestra, dedicated symphonic orchestras were still quite rare. As a result, musicians learned symphonic works in piano transcriptions, and as the symphonies grew more complex, the use of two pianists for a transcription increased. Thus, Brahms' original conception of the Hungarian Dances suggests a shared sense of musical inquiry between two performers. The later arrangements for orchestra and for a single pianist, speak to the changing nature of the "market" for new music in the nineteenth century; entrepreneurs could sell tickets for an orchestral concert and publishers could sell multiple editions of a work by Brahms.

The performing and recording history of this great work has been enriched by the other arrangements. The orchestral version remains a staple of the repertoire, while the solo version remains the sort of work pianists keep at hand for encores and specialty performances. Even a cursory glance at a library or store catalog indicates how these other versions have dominated available recordings. The four-hand version has become a sort of curiosity that is available in older recordings – with their attendant re-mastering problems and unfashionable performance practices – or new digital offerings, hastily recorded by two young prodigies in an Eastern-European church.

This recording of the Hungarian dances by the Kantorski-Pope Duo is a most welcome addition to the available recordings. Here are two musicians who have obviously lived with this literature and have given serious consideration to the problems – and the promise – of balancing the considerable amount sound one can expect of two pianists. Perhaps one of the first challenges of performing this literature is to properly lift and sing these Hungarian melodies within rich and varied texture of voices that are all played on a single piano. The sheer proliferation of piano notes combined with the heft of Brahms' contrapuntal praxis can make the overall sound busy or clouded. The Kantorski-Pope Duo meets this challenge with aplomb. The pedaling is restrained and is used more for timbre than for sustain: a kind of pedaling that suggests the Graf and Streicher pianos that Brahms actually played. Moreover, the clarity of the Kantorski-Pope Duo's musical presentation is reproduced in stunning digital sound. The lower resonance blooms as if the listener were close to the pianos but in a sizable room. The bright passage work is rendered lively, but not cold or metallic. Unlike some recordings, there is never the feeling that one is presented with a sound trapped under the lid of the piano.

By not giving this work an opus number, Brahms himself may have inadvertently suggested that these dances are less serious. Only fifty years after their publication, one would-be wit suggested the Hungarian Dances were only good for a showy display of technique, writing, "the unhackneyed ones are quite as fetching as those played in movie-houses and at violin recitals ... it's up to duettists to exploit them properly." Fortunately, Kantorski-Pope Duo takes a more reverential approach in their presentation. The tempi and expression captured in this recording suggest the maturation of long study. In particular, the subito tempo changes and the broadening expression at structural articulation points are a testament to the shared commitment to ensemble playing between Kantorski and Pope. Their playing suggests the communal and mutually respectful playing Brahms imagined when he performed the work with Clara Schumann. Moreover, the keen sense for motion mediates some of the extremes of earlier recordings and the sensibilities of the modern listener. In all and in sum, this is a serious presentation of serious music and long overdue.

:: Paul Mathews
:: Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
:: The Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University

 

 

 

 

 

 

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