Brahms; Saint-Saëns Works for Two Pianos

The sonata can hide many pitfalls but the Pekinels avoid them brilliantly

Bryce Morrison, 2005

A quick glance at Warner Classics’s note reminds us that the twin sisters Güher and Süher Pekinel studied with Serkin, Arrau, Yvonne Loriod and Horszowski, a formidable pedigree reflected in performances of rare brilliance and pinpoint definition. Their crystalline clarity and verve erase the very real threats of strenuousness, opacity and coagulated textures in the Brahms Sonata, music exposed to severe criticism from Clara Schumann before its final reincarnation as the Piano Quintet.

The Pekinels achieve exactly the right note of foreboding at the start of the first movement development. They also give us a true oasis of calm in the Andante before racing through the Scherzo at a tempo sufficiently precipitate to tempt fate. But their command and control win the day at every point and never more so than in the finale’s concluding Presto non troppo, whirled to an exhilarating close with total assurance.

After such a weighty offering the Waltzes and Hungarian Dances provide charming and scintillating relief, and, moving from Germany to France, the Pekinels’ performance of Saint-Saëns’s Variations on a Theme of Beethoven is of an enchanting vivacity and lightness. The rapid chording of Variation 3 holds no terrors for them and, throughout, their virtuosity is as fearless as it is musical. This is a fine and well recorded addition to the sisters’ discography.