Don’t let the title upset you: there are no victims here. And the mournful basset hounds are misleading: this isn’t morose music. It is a two-piano recital by the sterling players Hopkins and Lhotzky. And it’s almost an hour of absolutely gorgeous music. What distinguishes this from other discs in the idiom is something rare and irreplaceable. Taste.
Chris and Bernd are not only astonishing technicians who can scamper all over the keyboard and make joyous noise. But they are wise artists who know that a rich diet of auditory fireworks soon palls.
(How many people, listening to a gifted player “show off” — a stride pianist play at dazzling speed, a horn player careen around in the upper register — have thought, “That’s really impressive. Could you stop doing it now — we’re all convinced that you can!” I know these radical thoughts have entered my mind more than once, and I suspect I am not alone.)
Although they are harmonically sophisticated musicians, Bernd and Chris know that melody and variety are essential. “Sweet, soft, plenty rhythm,” said Mr. Morton, and he hasn’t been proven wrong.
So this disc doesn’t wallop us with pyrotechnics — there is a James P. piece, JINGLES — but it roams around happily in the land of Medium Tempo with delicacy and precision. It isn’t Easy Listening or music to snooze by, but no crimes are committed against Beauty here. What’s more, these players have understood how to plan a concert — even when the imagined audience may be driving or doing the dishes — so there is never too much of any one approach or style. The disc begins with the Ellington-Strayhorn TONK (which, once again reminds me of Gershwin in Paris and Raymond Scott in his studio), then moves to a lacy reading of Fud Livingston’s IMAGINATION, Arthur Schutt’s GEORGIA JUBILEE, Thornhill’s SNOWFALL, I GOT PLENTY O’NUTTIN’, the aforementioned JINGLES (a masterpiece at a less-than-frenzied tempo but swinging hard), a lovely Hopkins solo rendition of SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, Bernd’s SALIR A LA LUZ (dedicated to Isabel Lhotzky, the Lion’s SNEAKAWAY as a solo for Bernd, Bernd’s FIVE 4 ELISE (whimsically based on FUR ELISE), Chris’ PARTNERS IN CRIME, DOIN’ THE VOOM VOOM, RUSSIAN LULLABY, I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES (for Mr. Waller), and Nazareth’s APANHEI-TE CARAQUINHO.
Discerning readers will note the absence of AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ and other songs that have been played many times in the last ninety-plus years, but this disc isn’t devoted to the esoteric for its own sake. Each of the songs has a strong melodic line: the listener never gets bored, for even the most familiar one here — say, SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME — is handled with great tenderness, elegance, and a spacious intelligence, as if the players already knew what cliches and formulaic turns of phrase were possible, and had discarded them in favor of a loving, deep simplicity. Even their 5 / 4 version of FUR ELISE is delicately hilarious.
And — as an added bonus — the disc is beautifully recorded in the old-fashioned way: two Steinway pianos and one pair of Sennheiser omni-directional microphones. It’s music for the ears, the heart, and the mind — and (without meaning any acrimony here) the disc is a quiet rebuke to pianists who pound their way through the same tired repertoire and record producers who make it sound artificial.
It’s a beauty, and it celebrates Beauty.
You can buy the disc here. Or hear samples of Amazonian mp3s here. Or the EyeTunes version here.
May your happiness increase.