A Show of Hands – Rachmaninoff – for Four Hands

Following on from Scriabin’s pieces for left hand alone, let’s look now at his friend Rachmaninoff’s works for four hands at one piano, and for four hands at two pianos.

The Six Morceaux Op 11, for piano duet, were written in 1894. The movements are Barcarolle,  Scherzo, Chanson Russe, Valse, Romance and Slava [Gloria]. These are for more advanced pianists, and make a delightful set of pieces. Above are Martha Argerich and Lilya Zilberstein.

Even earlier is the Suite No 1 Op 5 for two pianos, composed in 1893, and dedicated to Tchaikowsky. Known as the ‘Fantasie-Tableaux’, it was intended to represent a series of musical pictures, based on poetry, and was first performed by Rachmaninov and Pavel Pabst in Moscow.  Follow the score below, and listen to Vadim Rudenko and Nicolai Lugansky in an astonishing live performance. These are demanding pieces. There are four movements: Barcarolle, La nuit … L’amour … ,  Les Larmes, and Pâques. The final movement is full of bell-like sonorities, which pervade so much Russian music.

And then there’s the Suite No 2, Opus 17, composed in Italy in 1901, and first performed by Rachmaninov and his cousin, Alexander Siloti. This is a firm favorite with pianists and with audiences – and it’s not for the faint-hearted player. Solid chords launch the Introduction: Alla marcia, which bowls along with cheerful confidence. Then comes the sparkle and glitter of the Valse. Who can resist its effervescent ebullience, fizzing like champagne in G major, then gliding suavely across the floor with its cross-rhythmed, elongated melody in E flat major, swirling seductively. The next movement, the Romance, is just that – full-blooded, with sumptuous, soaring melodies and rich harmonies. And to finish, a lively, scintillating Tarantelle. 

I love the performance by André Previn and Ashkenazy, which I can’t find on YouTube.  It is said that Rachmaninoff and Horowitz played this Suite at a party in Los Angeles in the early 1940s. Wish I’d been there …

Below are Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire. Enjoy!


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