Energetic playing from the Labeque sisters.
The Labeques play brilliantly and with their characteristic scrupulous ensemble…
I especially like Marielle's 'Ragtime'…spectacular'
The Labeques created their own label, KML, and this is one of the first releases. .....I will return to it often.
December 6, 2008
#1 Katia and Marielle Labèque, Stravinsky/Debussy (KML 1112)
"With fantastically intricate videos by Tal Rosner, the duo pianists light up Stravinsky's Concerto for Two Pianos and more."
Music and culture from Chicago music journalist Marc Geelhoed.
(Classical critic for Time Out Chicago)
The sisters are sensational....
This combination of CD and DVD is surely the shape of things to come. Le me first say that (on CD or DVD) the performances of these key Stravinsky works are outstanding in every way,bringing out all the originality, wit and character of the unique keyboard writing, to say nothing of its moment of audacity. The performance of Debussy’s “En blanc et noir” makes a contrasting centrepiece of equal distinction, dazzlingly colouristic. A CD to recommend unreservedly, in vividly sound.
After a very successful all-Ravel disc (reviewed in June), here they are again with Stravinsky’s music for two pianos, one piano, four hands and a few solos, coupled with Debussy’s En blanc et noir, whose third movement, Scherzando, is dedicated ‘à mon ami Igor Stravinsky’ – it’s fascinating to hear two of the twentieth century’s greatest and most individual composers, rubbing shoulders, as it were, in such a carefully devised programme. The Labèque sisters begin boldly with the biggest challenge, the Concerto for two pianos, which Stravinsky wrote between 1931 and 1935 as a performing vehicle for himself and his son, and which he later declared to be his favourite among his instrumental works. If the remaining works by the Russian composer are essentially miniatures –
Three and Five Easy Pieces for piano four hands (1915/1918), Ragtime (1918), a selection from Les cinq doigt (1921), a Valse des fleurs for piano four hands (1918) and a Tango for two pianos (1940) arranged by Victor Babin – the Debussy suite supplies sufficient ballast for a reasonably well-fille disc. The Labèques have matured exponentially as artists since they were the hottest pianistic glamour girls on PolyGram/Universal’s books in the 1980s – an irony that won’t be lost on collectors who despair of the big companies today – and it would be hard to imagine a more technically brilliant account of the Stravinsky Concerto or more lustrous, luminously coloured Debussy. Hearing two such disparate works as the Concerto and En blanc et noir in such close proximity undoubtedly affects the way you hear the music and the way the Labèques play it: the Debussyian transparency of Stravinsky’s Notturno and Variations gives way to more emphatically rhythmical accounts of the outer movements of Debussy’s suite. Both sisters revel in the witty pastiche of the miniatures. In their solos, Marielle’s Ragtime is louchely jazzy, while Katia relishes the perky humour of three little pieces from The five fingers. All lovers of this repertoire will want to acquire this disc, which can be heartily recommended.
The second release from the Labeque sisters’ own record label shows them trying some rather far out approaches to the music and its presentation - approaches which probably wouldn’t have been supported by their previous label, Universal....
The Labeques engaged young videographer Rosner to provide images for most of the selections they perform on one and two pianos on the music CD of this pair of discs. The DVD is 4:3 screen, color, and with 48K PCM stereo audio. Each of the pieces as a different visual approach. The one Debussy piece naturally calls up water-oriented images and works well with them. Most of the Stravinsky works accompany fast-moving industrial images. There are many two-screen sequences of side-by-side images that are sometimes connected and sometimes not. Many are shot from moving train windows, as buildings and the countryside pass by. Later videos are full screen. The cutting is perfectly synchronized to the music and some of the selections are very effective... For the Three Easy Stravinsky Pieces we begin to glimpse the Labeques at work recording the music, along with closeups of the hammers on the strings, other details of the pianos, and even of videographer Rosner. The slightly extended frequency response and clarity of the 48K PCM audio is to be preferred to the standard CD’s 44.1K. The Labeques play all the works with great emphasis on the rhythmic qualities and with a percussive touch, which is in keeping with the Stravinsky selections. The one piece which is for solo piano, Stravinsky’s 1918 Ragtime, is played by Marielle with plenty of swing and syncopation. This album is certainly a creative way to employ the CD + DVD combo toward a unique media vision.
After their brilliant debut album on their own label, the Labèque sisters turn their attention to Stravinsky and Debussy with equally compelling technical address and pianistic flair. The programme comprises most of Stravinsky’s original output for four hands at one keyboard – Valse des fleurs, Three Easy Pieces, Five Easy Pieces – as well as the Concerto for Two Pianos and two solo works, Ragtime and three movements from The Five Fingers. Debussy’s En Blanc et noir makes an ideal coupling and it would be hard to imagine a more idiomatic performance than this, with luminously translucent textures and whip-crack rhythmic vitality.
On neighbouring Steinways and at the same keyboard, the Labeque sisters play piano duets by Stravinsky and Debussy. In the former’s Concerto they are fidgety, percussive and exciting; in the final fugue they are satisfyingly complex; and in the latter’s En Blanc et Noir they are angry, dreamy and flighty, tossing quotes from Igor’s Firebird to each other in the scherzando finale.
A sense of fun pervades the following children’s miniatures. The booklet notes are refreshingly curt.
Friends and family united at keyboard
The young Russian iconoclast and the older French impressionist master became wary friends in the last years of Debussy's life, though their admiration for each other was genuine enough. They make a strong pairing in this disc of pieces for two pianos(or four hands at one piano), with the disconcerting ambiguities of Debussy's 'En blanc et noir' offsetting the airy detachment of Stravinsky's concerto for Two pianos. But the bulk of the collection is Stravinsky, represented here too as a family man with the Five Easy pieces written for his children,all of which end too soon. They swing from the clipped Russian jangling of 'Balalaika' to the outrageous flounce and bounce of the 'Galop', inspired by a visit to what Stravinsky described as a 'demi-respectable' nightclub in pre-Revolutionary St Petersburg. There's a neat rapport between the performers, too,the sisters Katia and Marielle Labéque, each of whom gets her solo turn: Katia with 'The Five Fingers', in which her right hand sticks to just five notes per piece, Marielle with the smoochy, hoochy 'Ragtime'.As part of the package video artist Tal Rosner interprets the music visually on a separate DVD.
The pianistic sisters go back to some ground they covered before and cover it with a new grace, style and maturity, as well as in an audio video manner. Tackling most of Stravinsky's works for four hands on one piano, this is some sprightly and ginger work that is sure to open the most jaded ears. When coupled with a video work that tracks the sounds nicely, you have the Labeques showing just how forward they can look and deliver. Simply a luminous performance throughout, these 20 fingers are just getting a second wind and the next sprint is going to be a great one. Hot stuff.
The second release from Katia and Marielle Labèque's own KML label largely revisits Debussy and Stravinsky works that the duo previously essayed for Philips. Their newer versions are preferable, and may well represent the Labèque sisters' finest recordings to date. Whereas a driving, steel-edged literalism characterizes their earlier Debussy En blanc et noir, the duo now imbues the score with greater rhythmic leeway. However, their newfound freedom results from supreme musical and ensemble discipline (regardless of tempos), plus a clearer sense of linear movement and consistently lean, almost Mozartean textures. The close, slightly dry engineering matches the interpretation hand in glove.
Such an analytic perspective perfectly suits Stravinsky's keyboard aesthetic, but don't assume for a minute that the Concerto's motoric writing sounds machine-like and monochrome. This sometimes was true of the Labèques' 1990 Philips traversal, but not here. In the first movement, notice their subtle yet crucial distinctions between repeated 16th-notes that function as rhythmic background and those that are melodic. The second-movement variations flow easily and inevitably in and out of each other, while the fugal finale now emerges in a more conversational, less abstract light.
Heightened characterization also applies to the easy duets, as well as to the solo selections. Marielle Labèque's sharp accents and deliciously timed syncopations in the solo Ragtime add welcome color and three-dimensional perspective to a composition that few pianists bring off with unqualified success.
An accompanying DVD offers most of the selections set to stylized, concrete images provided by the young videographer Tal Rosner. The images range from water and clouds to buildings and industrial symbols and for the most part are steadily synchronized to the music's rhythmic gestures. Some listeners/viewers may find Rosner's style blunt and repetitious, yet to his credit he never pulls focus from the music. Interestingly, the DVD's 48K PCM audio standard yields a slightly fuller sonic image in comparison with the identical performances mastered to conventional CD specifications. Highly recommended.