Four Hands

Four Hands

Before the invention of sound recording, piano duets introduced countless musicians to arrangements of symphonic and other works, as well as pieces specially composed for two adjacent players. “This album is a panorama of the piano four hands repertoire,” Alexandre Tharaud tells Apple Music Classical. Four Hands amounts to Tharaud’s love letter to the piano duet. He shares the piano stool with 22 different partners, one for each track, who collectively tuck into a menu of familiar pieces and forgotten delights. There’s room on the music stand for an exquisite arrangement of a movement from J.S. Bach’s Actus Tragicus, the seductive Prelude to Poulenc’s Sonata for Piano 4-hands, minimalist masterworks by Satie and Glass, and dazzling miniatures from Belle Époque Paris, none finer than Albert Lavignac’s Galop-marche. Tharaud conceived the idea for the recording in the early days of the COVID pandemic, and enlisted a company of friends and colleagues to bring it to life. The album’s cast list includes pianists with stellar international careers—Víkingur Ólafsson, Bruce Liu, and Beatrice Rana among them—others best known in Tharaud’s native France, and several rising stars. Plus there are three musicians famed for things other than playing piano: cabaret chanteuse Juliette, countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, and the cellist Gautier Capuçon. And he was joined, too, by “Mr Nobody” in The Just Average, a soft shoe shuffle from Charles-Henry’s “Piano jazz duets for little fingers” collection. “I’d wanted to record a four-hands album with different pianists for many years, but it was never a priority,” Alexandre Tharaud tells Apple Music Classical. “But when COVID came, I had nothing to do, just bake cakes! So I called my friends and maybe a dozen said ‘Yes.’ We’re musicians, we want to play together. We began recording in Paris at the end of 2020, and then made other tracks elsewhere: in Berlin with Mariam Batsashvili, for example, London with Martin James Bartlett, Brussels with Víkingur.” Tharaud’s passion for piano four hands took hold at an early age. “When I was young, whenever a friend or my parents entered my room, I would say, ‘Please come to the piano, sit.’ And even if the person was not a musician, I’d say, ‘You play this note, you play this note.’ And I’d improvise an accompaniment. When you play piano four hands, you touch your partner, you can talk, even during a concert. It’s so very intimate. When you play a four-hand piece, however old you are, you feel like a kid again. It’s a unique occasion to play music with the body of your partner being so close. That’s so important!” He recorded the “Berceuse” from Fauré’s Dolly Suite with Nicholas Angelich not long before the American pianist’s death. “He was such a great musician. I’d known him since we were at the Paris Conservatoire years ago. Maybe we recorded the Fauré 30 times. It’s his last recording. He didn’t care about the results, he just wanted to play. With piano four hands, you can feel very deeply the person, you can feel their sensibility, the pulsation of their heart. Playing with him was like mixing ingredients. He seemed to pass through the keyboard into the piano when he played.” Tharaud calls on fellow pianists to take stock of the instrument’s wide repertoire and become less fixated on the tiny proportion of pieces that populate most piano recital programs. “The message of this album to pianists is, ‘Be careful, be careful.’ There are many masterpieces for four hands. And the four-hand repertoire is such fun. It’s such a pleasure to play because the two players, the primo and secondo, sit so close together. So I would like to say, please, my friends, all pianists—whether students or famous artists, beginners and anyone who has access to a piano—please play these pieces.” Just one question remains. Who’s Mr Nobody? “It's a secret,” replies Alexandre Tharaud. “But you have different options. Maybe it's a pianist who doesn't want anyone to know they’re on this album. Maybe it's two recordings of myself. Maybe it's an unknown pianist who doesn't want to say their name. Or maybe it's a famous pianist who can't be named because of their contract with another record label. Perhaps you’ll never know.”

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