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French Duets

Steven Osborne, Paul Lewis (piano) (Hyperion)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

French Duets
Debussy: Six épigraphes antiques; Petite suite; Fauré: Dolly Suite; Poulenc: Sonata for Four Hands; Ravel: Ma mère l’Oye; Stravinsky: Three Easy Pieces for Piano Duet
Steven Osborne, Paul Lewis (piano)
Hyperion CDA68329   67:45 mins

What an absolute treat. If you have played piano duets, the chances are that at least one of these Gallic offerings has passed under your fingers. Rarely, though, has this music sounded as good as in the hands of Paul Lewis and Steven Osborne. Opening and closing in the respective childhood worlds of Fauré’s Dolly Suite and Ravel’s Ma mère l’Oye, fresh-faced charm pervades this astutely curated disc. The winsome innocence of Stravinsky’s Three Easy Pieces and gentle joie de vivre of Debussy’s Petite Suite are irresistible, while the spartan textures of Debussy’s Six épigraphes antiques provide a more restrained view of an imagined past.

Far from a marriage of convenience, Lewis and Osborne are long-standing duo partners, complementing each other perfectly in lightly-worn virtuosity. Take for instance the unassuming melody and accompaniment of a movement such as ‘Kitty-valse’ from Fauré’s Dolly Suite. Each nuance is finely judged without fussiness, the repeat of the initial tune prompting a subtle shift in colour and the final chords melting to a delectable conclusion. The Petite Suite’s ‘Ballet’ has an exuberant playfulness, the controlled fragility of the ‘Pavane’ from Ma mère l’Oye is heartachingly beautiful, and there’s no need for Ravel’s orchestration in ‘Laideronnette’ with this range of shimmering colours. Lest it be thought the album is all cosy nostalgia, the headbanging spirit of Poulenc’s early Sonata gatecrashes the party with its alternative brand of youthful vigour, pushed forward with joyous abandon. In short, this is pure enjoyment from start to finish.

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Christopher Dingle