Johannes Brahms, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, Sergei Rachmaninoff

Bradley Bolen & Vincent De Vries



"What's striking about these pieces for two pianos is that they don't sound as if they're being performed by four hands. So add the ability to make twice as much sound like "once as much" to the reasons for marveling at Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Poulenc and Michaud (and the ability to keep the unity luminously intact to the reasons for admiring Bolen and De Vries)."
World Magazine - June 2009
"I don't know when I've had as much fun listening to a recital than I had auditioning Bolen & De Vries: Piano Duo. The team of Bradley Bolen and Vincent de Vries are apparently both Texas natives, with doctorates from the University of Texas , Austin . They are certainly quick on the draw in music that requires mutual rapport, precise timing, and a real zest for high profile rhythms. That goes with the territory, as a duo piano recital, when things are really cooking, can bring out sonorities and a range of dynamics and tone colors that can only be matched by an orchestra. As opposed to the intimate nature of 4-hands piano music, the duo-piano repertoire, in which two performers face one another from opposing pianos, is definitely for the concert hall. The program of works by Brahms, Poulenc, Rachmaninoff and Milhaud gives these artists ample opportunity to really show their stuff.

 They begin with Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Haydn, eight variations on a chorale melody whose asymmetrical five-measure phrases offer a wealth of possibilities. Brahms' alternative setting for orchestra is actually better known, though Bolen and de Vries make a strong case for the duo piano version, particularly in the zest with which they launch into the dazzling fireworks of the fugal finale.

Poulenc's Elegie, subtitled à la Memoire de Marie-Blanche, makes a perfect contrast to the preceding work. As befits a piece written in memory of someone, the opening is dignified and restrained, its long melody in the first piano accompanied by quiet syncopated chords. There is an impassioned, though still dignified, middle section, a reprise of the opening, and then a coda with an ascending sense of movement and ultimate release which these artists capture beautifully.

We return to the exuberant with the opening, in march tempo, of Rachmaninoff's Suite No. 2 for a Pianos, Op. 17. Bolen and de Vries really savor the rich textures of this movement, as they do the delicious interplay and the whirlwind velocity of the Presto, a fantastic Waltz with its 3/4 time trickily overlaid by 3/2 at half the speed. (Dancers, don't try this at home!) The slow movement is an Andantino in 6/8 that is more disquieting than it has a right to be. Our artists take the finale, a Tarantella, with all the excitement the law allows.

That brings us to Darius Milhaud's Scaramouche, an engaging little suite that the composer used in a number of other guises, including and a Cinema Fantaise written to accompany the silent pictures of Charlie Chaplin. Bolen and de Vries have great fun trading melody and accompaniment and following the tricky patterns of scrambling sixteenth notes in the samba-based opening movement appropriately marked Vif (Lively). The slow movement provides a moment of repose in its agreeable dialog between the two pianos. Our artists really throw themselves into the finale, a dazzling Brazileira in which one pianist plays the wide-ranging bass and bare-octaves melody while the other plays rapid chords slithering through the register in between. Simply terrific!"
Atlanta Audio Society - March 2009
 "This is a great two-piano program... the variety of touch and color heard here makes me realize how astute Brahms was to create this second version of [the Variations]. There is an audible excitement that Bolen & De Vries bring to this music that cannot be captured by a full symphony orchestra. It's a perfect opening work for a two-piano recital. The Rachmaninoff given a solid performance here. The brilliant Scaramouche is a perfect closing work for the recital."
American Record Guide - July / August 2008
"Two pianists of one mind - drama delicacy and plenty of fun, too...a well-matched effort...[Bolen and DeVries'] reading of Brahms' Variations on a Theme By Haydn highlights the proper melodic and harmonic material at every turn...consistently propelled forward. A performance of Poulenc's Elegie finds their keyboard attack melding together to the point that they almost sound like a single pianist, delicately unfurling the work's quiet intensity in sync. Rachmaninov's Suite becomes a joyful jam session...these pianists [are] steeped in the composer's language. Milhaud's Scaramouche is a romp. Bolen and DeVries are on point throughout, avoiding overblown, speaker-buzzing thick textures."
Gramophone - June 2008
"The two-piano team of Bolen and DeVries offers a notable performance of Brahms' Haydn Variations, along with expert readings of Rachmaninov's Suite No.2, Milhaud's Scaramouche and Poulenc's Elegie."
Turok's Choice - June 2008
The piano is best known as a solo instrument, and secondarily as a "collaborator" in lieder and chamber music. In both capacities, its repertory is enormous. The amount of music written for two pianos is much smaller, and for obvious reasons. Amateurs need not apply; few have two pianos in their home. Even the challenges of getting the two instruments on stage are formidable. They are normally placed so that they interlock, the diminishing crook of one instrument facing the widening one of the other. This allows the pianists to see each other’s faces—which is crucial in chamber music—but it necessitates removing the lid from the left-facing piano so it does not block the projection of the sound from both instruments. The combination of two pianos has nevertheless had sufficient allure to tempt composers from Mozart to the present to write small numbers of works for it specifically (arrangements of piano concertos abound). This is in stark contrast to the huge number of compositions and arrangements that have been made for the friendlier medium of piano four-hands, which still plays a significant role in amateur home musical entertainment.

In Brahms’ and Rachmaninoff’s time, it played a much larger role. Clearly, though, both composers recognized that two pianists seated at different instruments generate sounds that are impossible in the four-hand format, evident at the beginning of both the Brahms Haydn variations and of the Rachmaninoff Suite, where the organ-like doublings give the themes particular resonance. Only an experienced pianist could have dreamed up the effect that concludes the second movement of the suite, with the two performers playing a rapidly repeated major third for the last four measures, trading notes so the repetitions sound with extra precision.

Also consider Milhaud’s Brazileira, concluding his Scaramouche, in which one pianist plays the wide-ranging bass and bare-octaves melody while the other plays rapid chords that undulate through the register in between. The duo-piano writing in Scaramouche is so effective (Milhaud was also a brilliant pianist) that it is perhaps surprising to learn that this is not an original composition for the medium. He arranged it from orchestral music he had written in 1937 for a theatrical production of Molière’s Le médecin volant. He later composed a few other arrangements of this three-movement suite, which have become better known than the original.

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Hailed as a pianist of great versatility and skill, BRADLEY BOLEN has appeared as soloist, collaborator, lecturer, writer and recording artist. Following the onset of piano study at age eight, Dr. Bolen studied and coached with such notable teachers as David Stokan, NancyGarrett, Anton Nel, Martin Canin and Menahem Pressler. He has since won top prizes in piano competitions, including the Eastfield Festival for Twentieth-Century Music, the Fort Worth Symphony Concerto Competition, and the Arlington Fine Arts League Competition. In 1993, Dr. Bolen was one of five pianists, chosen internationally, to receive a fellowship to the Hartt School of Music in Hartford, Connecticut, where he studied under the guidance of renowned pianist Claude Frank.

Dr. Bolen is an active performer, both as a soloist and accompanist, and concertizes throughout the United States, Mexico and in Europe, where he has served as summer faculty for the Austrian-American Mozart Academy in Salzburg, Austria. In 2003, he gave the first live performance of renowned pianist Earl Wild's Sonata 2000. Mr. Wild wrote, "Bradley Bolen is one of the most astute musicians I have encountered in my long career. His pianistic abilities are of the highest level, and his perceptive powers as an interpreter are extraordinary."

After receiving his doctorate from The University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Bolen designed and marketed a series of highly successful lecture courses for general concert audiences, including "Ten Ways to Listen", "The Masterpiece and the Romantic Dream", "Beethoven to Picasso, " and "Piano! Piano!" His writings can be found in the American Record Guide, where he has served as music critic for years. In addition, he has arranged and recorded music for film, including Touchstone Pictures' The War at Home, and Erik Borzi’s Silent Paradise. Currently, Dr. Bolen serves as piano faculty at Baylor University in Texas.

VINCENT DE VRIES, Assistant Professor of Piano and Director of Collaborative Piano at Baylor University, is an active performer, presenting recitals as soloist, duo pianist, accompanist and organist. Prior to his appointment at Baylor University, he served as an Assistant Instructor at The University of Texas at Austin, teaching instrumental accompanying to undergraduate and graduate students. Dr. de Vries received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from The University of Texas at Austin, and holds a Performer’s Diploma from The Royal Conservatory in The Hague, The Netherlands and a Master’s degree from Bowling Green State University. His principal teachers have included Nancy Garrett, Edward Auer, Jerome Rose and Theo Bruins. Dr. de Vries is the recipient of many scholarships, and has won awards in several competitions, among them first prize in the National Young Artist Competition in The Netherlands and first prize in the Sidney Wright Accompanying Competition at The University of Texas at Austin. In addition to his piano performances, his work as a concert organist is highly regarded. He has given more than 300 solo recitals and has seven CD releases to his credit. In 2003, Dr. de Vries received the silver medal from the Arts, Sciences, et Lettres in Paris for his contributions to the French organ literature. On disc, Vincent de Vries can also be heard in recital with Jeffrey Powers, Associate Professor of Horn at Baylor University, in recordings of works by Baldwin, Bentzon, Pilss and Vignery on the MSR label [MS1212].





DARIUS MILHAUD (1892-1974)

MSR Classics