In the concert hall a great performance of The Rite of Spring has a visceral impact. You feel its cultivated barbarisms in your gut, you marvel at its palette of wild colours. Yet Stravinsky composed at the piano; not only was the first published score of The Rite for piano four hands, but that was how the work was first performed shortly before the legendary stage premiere, with Stravinsky on one half of the keyboard and Debussy on the other (…to have been a fly on the wall…).
These days, duo-pianists usually play the work on two pianos, which offers more control and, frankly, a greater likelihood of accuracy. Hamelin and Andsnes – at two pianos – are fearsomely good, hair-trigger responsive to the work’s subtleties, aggression and lightning-fast changes of mood. These two are not just on the same page, they are on the same paragraph – even the same semi-colon. (This recording is the culmination of some 20 performances Hamelin and Andsnes have given of this work).
Where The Rite of Spring is hot, you might say that the Concerto for Two Solo Pianos is cool. This is from the 1930s, when Stravinsky had Beethoven and even Brahms on his mind, although he has the blues in the second movement.
It won’t surprise you to learn that Hamelin and Andsnes play this superbly too. The encores are droll and the recording is crystal clear.