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Romantic Music for Two Pianos

Arnold Bax, Arthur Benjamin, Benjamin Britten, Claude Debussy, Witold Lutoslawski, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Camille Saint-Saƫns




"I always enjoy hearing unusual repertoire and this exciting disc certainly fits the bill. The label MSR Classics has compiled a disc titled Romantic Music for Two Pianos performed by the partnership of Joshua Pierce and Dorothy Jonas that includes eleven accessible scores. I love how the selection mixes established scores in their lesser known arrangements for two pianos, like Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre, with other scores that I only rarely encounter, such as those from Britten and Bax.

Throughout this recording the splendid partnership of Joshua Pierce and Dorothy Jonas communicate a close rapport conveying refreshing performances of exemplary ensemble. The release benefits from a pleasing sound quality.
The opening score and the earliest to be composed is Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre... this is a thrilling performance of a work that never fails to please.
Written in the USA in 1940 this two piano version of Rachmaninov’s magnificent three movement orchestral suite is a great opportunity to hear the composer’s original intentions prior to his later full orchestration of the score... Bristling with ideas the opening movement Non Allegro is performed briskly by the impressive duo with a vivacity and drive that contrasts greatly with the contemplative inner section.

The light-hearted Polka Italienne... is given an uplifting performance so immersed in summer sunshine. [In Rachmaninov's] Prélude in C sharp minor, the partnership develop the famous score from its heavy and cumbersome texture to a thrilling and vibrant journey.

Rachmaninov’s delightful Russian Rhapsody is a student composition from the Moscow Conservatory. Long thought lost this folk-song infused score is given a terrific performance packed with exhilaration.

The Introduction and Rondo alla burlesca from 1940 is an earlier product of Britten’s stay in the United States. One is aware of the driving forward momentum that Pierce and Jonas positively assign to their performance.

Bax composed The Poisoned Fountain in 1928 a work inspired by the Secret Well of Segais from his beloved Celtic mythology. This performance from Pierce and Jonas convincingly evokes an air of mystery and of flowing water from the well. 
[In his] Variations on a theme by Paganini...Lutoslawski utilised the last of Paganini’s 24 Caprices for unaccompanied violin, successfully capturing in this interpretation from Pierce and Jonas the sparkling and carefree nature of the work."
MusicWeb International - November 2008
"[Pierce & Jonas'] precision ensemble is enhanced by their generally crisp and clean sound...they have individual and joint technical expertise that is hard to beat. Pierce and Jonas [in the Debussy-Ravel] get the nod over the illustrious recording by Josef and Rosina Lhevinne. The Lutoslawski Paganini Variations are also top notch...none of [Liszt's] brilliance is lost here. Pierce and Jonas'] Rachmaninoff let me hear some different things...and proved to be quite enjoyable...a worthy addition to Rachmaninoff and two-piano collections."
American Record Guide - November / December 2008
"...a stunning disc."
Turok's Choice - Issue No.204, November 2008
"[Pierce and Jonas] meet the music's demands with flair..."
BBC Music Magazine - November 2008
"[the Pierce & Jonas two-piano team] have been performing and recording the usually neglected repertory of two-piano music from the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as new works written especially for them, and are one of the top duo-piano teams in the world today. These recordings...constitute a wonderful two-piano concert without a dud in the group...The entire program is a gas, but my favorite [in addition to the Rachmaninov] was the mysterious Poisoned Fountain of Bax...Sonics are fine; you two-channel holdouts should love this one: sit in your sweet spot and revel in the byplay of the two pianos on your left and right - there's just enough separation."
Audiophile Audition - August 2008
"In Symphonic Dances, the famed duo-piano team of Joshua Pierce and Dorothy Jonas celebrate their 30th anniversary in style... In terms of sonority, timbres, and a dazzling palette of tone colors, only the symphony orchestra can rival what we have here with two artists of the keyboard playing in communication with each other, the composer, and the listener...The program is varied and attractive. It begins with Camille Saint-Saëns’ ghostly Danse Macabre with its familiar zig-zag rhythms under the melody. The clatter of the dancing bones and the discordant harmony are beautifully re-created here...[Pierce and Jonas provide] a portentous account of the ever-popular Prelude in C-Sharp Minor with its crashing octaves and sonorous chords, and a spirited account of the rousing Russian Rhapsody that makes us realize how much fun the duo-piano repertoire must be to perform as well as listen to...Claude Debussy’s Fêtes (Festivals) from Trois Nocturnes...gives Pierce and Jonas the opportunity to revel in its highly characterized writing and its subtle rhythmic variety."
Atlanta Audio Society - August 2008
Although the popularity of multiple keyboards predates the popularity of the piano itself (Bach wrote concerti for two and three keyboards) and piano, four hands, was a recognized musical medium already in the eighteenth century, the heyday of two-piano music comes later – essentially from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries.

Among the great piano duos of the past were Rosina and Josef Lhevinne, originally from Moscow but emigrants to the United States in 1919 and active as a duo by the 1930s. Ethel Bartlett and Rae Robertson, originally from Great Britain (London and Scotland) but also migrated to the U.S., are credited with having established the popularity of the piano duo in concert and with having inspired many composers to write for the medium.

This is the lineage inherited by the duo-pianists Joshua Pierce and Dorothy Jonas. As is true of the medium as a whole, their repertoire consists of original works and arrangements, romantic and modern as well as European and American music. In their four hands, the range of the two-piano repertoire, its virtuosity, its sonic possibilities as well as its expressive powers can be well heard and understood.

2008 marks the 30th year that the duo-piano team of Pierce & Jonas has been performing. Pierce and Jonas have been called "consummate technicians with marvelous articulation" and "crystalline performances…the ultimate in crispness, producing performances that go far beyond documentation." by Fanfare Magazine while the San Francisco Chronicle has praised their "Exceptional ensemble and glitter", New York Newsday has said that "they displayed that sort of emotional and interpretive union that must be second nature to a two piano team," while the Washington Post called them "skilled and idiomatic" and The New York Times described them as "technically ingenious…a hand in glove performance". Turok's Choice (1996) has said of the duo: "No performers have done more to bring 20th-century repertory for two pianos and orchestra to the  listener’s attention than the duo-piano team of Pierce and Jonas." One of the most imaginative and compelling two piano teams around, Pierce and Jonas have been successfully performing and recording the unusual and neglected two-piano repertoire  of  the 19th and 20th centuries since the mid-1980’s.

The duo has appeared with many symphony orchestras world-wide including those of Houston, San Antonio, Mexico City and Luxembourg as well as the Royal Philharmonic, the London Philharmonia, the National Symphony of Polish Radio and Television, (Katowice), Luxembourg Radio Symphony, the Slovak Philharmonic, State Philharmonic of Kosice, Czech Radio Symphony of Prague, the Orchestra da Camera di Roma, the Chicago Sinfonietta, San Antonio Symphony, the Philharmonia Virtuosi of New York and Utah Symphony. Among their many recent performances include concert appearances in San Diego, CA, Tijuana, Baja Mexico, Bratislava, Slovakia and various cities in the Czech Republic, in performances Mozart’s  Two Piano Concerto in E-flat K365. Their American performances  of this work prompted Ken Smith of the New Jersey Star Ledger to write: "Pierce and Jonas work marvelously in their framework, trading the musical material back and forth comfortably without leaving seams in the textures, yet shaping it with a hint of their own personalities in the process". Paul Somers of Classical New Jersey  writes: "Pierce and Jonas play the Mozart Double Concerto with a sense of gallant elegance the piece demands."
The Pierce and Jonas Duo has performed and recorded all the standard repertoire for two pianos and orchestra as well as introduced and recorded many important twentieth century works including Walter Piston’s Concerto for Two Pianos, Benjamin Britten’s Scottish Ballad, Morton Gould’s Dance Variations for Two Pianos and Orchestra, Paul Creston's Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, Bohuslav Martinu’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra,  as well as works by Nicolai Berezowsky, Alexander Tansman, Gian Francisco Malipiero. Their recordings have ranged from the complete two piano works of Mozart (Pro Arte) to John Cage’s Three Dances for Two Prepared Pianos (Wergo), Charles Ives’ Three Pieces in Quartertones, (Sony Classical and PITCH) along with the Concerto for Two Pianos & Orchestra (1993) (MMC) by the late American composer Robert Starer (Pierce/Jonas chosen by the composer to give the European premier/Mischa and Cipa Dichter gave the American premier). In a letter to MMC Records, 12/15/98, the late composer, Robert Starer wrote upon hearing the recording: "I find Joshua Pierce and Dorothy Jonas brilliant technically and highly sensitive and expressive musically. Their interpretation of the second movement of the concerto is truly poetic and they caught the spirit of the third perfectly. There is nothing to complain about the playing of the outer movements either; they have drive and intensity." David Paladino, of the Westfield Times – Leader has recently praised this duo-piano team who have  "set the standard for many pieces including many first time recordings."

On October 19, 1997 Pierce and Jonas gave the world premier performance of  the Concerto for Two Pianos & Orchestra (1996) which was composed for Pierce/Jonas by William Thomas McKinley, with the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Valek in Smetna Hall, Prague.  In 1999, Helicon Recordings released their world premier recording of the 1958 Pulitzer Prize winning Concerto for Two Pianos & Orchestra (1953) [Helicon HE1044] by composer William Quincy Porter. On hearing their recording of Felix Mendelssohn’s E major and A-flat major  two-piano concerti on the Vox-Classique label, Paul Turok of Turok’s Choice  wrote: "This recording shows what stunning results a true two-piano team can achieve in these concertos, as opposed to two pianists merely brought together for the occasion. Brilliant performances…virtuosic and sensitive."

In 1984, world-renowned Academy Award winning composer, Miklos Rosza, offered to write for the team a work which became the Spellbound Concerto Fantasie for Two Pianos and Orchestra (a work twice as long as the original Spellbound score, including material not used on the original soundtrack).He also wrote for Pierce/Jonas his New England Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra based on music from the films Lydia and Time Out of Mind. The premier performance took place at Salt Lake City and at Snowbird with the Utah Symphony Orchestra ("…polished and sensitive technicians." - Paul Wetzel, Salt Lake City Tribune) and subsequent performances with the Midland-Odessa Symphony ("Dynamically performed with precision and technical excellence." - Skye Osborne Odessa American/Texas. These critically acclaimed performances resulted in the team being invited to give a Command Performance for the Royal Family with the London Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall/London. Their 1991 Chicago debut with Paul Freeman and the Chicago Sinfonietta in Francis Poulenc’s Two-Piano Concerto was called "most delightful…a performance of stature" - The Chicago Sun-Times.

Starting in 1992, Mr. Pierce and Ms. Jonas presented a unique and exciting series of performances at CAMI Hall, New York University and at MicroFest Trenton, New Jersey as part of the American Festival of MicroTonal Music performance seasons. They presented first performances of two piano works by Stefen Konicek (Preludium, Blues and Toccata) and Roland Moser’s Homage AO as well as two-piano works by Alan Hohvaness, Mordecai Sandberg, Ivan Wyschnegradsky, Bruce Mather, and Charles Ives of which, Kyle Gann of the Village Voice said: "very satisfying performances of some very difficult music… and imbued with spirit."  Their 1994 release of Two Steinways on Broadway continues to  receive tremendous airplay and great critical acclaim: Fanfare: "Pierce and Jonas play with confidence, flair and style."; Daniel Webster of the Philadelphia Enquirer said: "a heightened sense of poetry".

In 2001, Pierce and Jonas completed a new album of World Premier performances for Kleos Classics, and was released in 2004, titled: Pierce & Jonas Play Rare Works for Two Pianos and Orchestra. Along with the North American Square Dance Suite for Two Pianos and Orchestra by Arthur Benjamin and the Concerto Italienne for Two Pianos and Orchestra by Pierre Max Dubois, they recorded the Two Piano Concerto (1946) by Roy Harris, the latter an obscure yet extremely important work in this genre by one of America’s most important composers of the 20th century.
Camille Saint-Saens

Sergei Rachmaninov

Benjamin Britten

Arnold Bax

Claude Debussy
FÊTES (from Nocturnes)

Arthur Benjamin

Witold Lutoslawski

MSR Classics