Dvorak: Slavonic Dances Opp. 46 & 72

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COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Slavonic Dances Opp. 46 & 72
PERFORMER: Katia & Marielle Labèque (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 426 264-2 DDD
Although originally conceived for piano duet, these two sets of dances migrated rapidly into the orchestral repertory, some of them receiving performances (in arrangements by the composer) even before the ‘originals’ were complete. However, it is only No. 8 in the first set (Op. 46), a boisterous furiant, that regularly graces the concert platform now, and it is to the credit of the Labèque sisters that they should choose to resurrect all 16 dances in the original, and somewhat unfashionable form of the piano duet.

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Unfortunately this disc bears all the hallmarks of slapdash and careless production. The small things first: the booklet misleadingly suggests that the sisters are playing two pianos; and the slight distortion in the opening chord, though not repeated, does much to unsettle the listener’s confidence. But these problems are trivial indeed. At the beginning of the second dance, a ghostly, tuneless humming can be heard, as though your neighbour were singing in the bath. Later on, the humming returns, but by now intensified into a nightmarish wheezing.

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The Labèque sisters can play the piano, of that there is no doubt. But they cannot sing. Almost the entire disc is permeated with spurious, atonal vocalising, most of which could have been eliminated by a more sensitive microphone position or, better still, a word in the ear of the artists themselves. That it should have escaped the notice of the producer is extraordinary. Christopher Lambton