Four Hands at Home Present Cozy Compositions

This release recreates the sound of the 19th-century salon. Stephanie McCallum and Erin Helyard perform at an 1853 Érard piano. The instrument has a surprisingly good sound, with virtually silent action. 

Modern pianos are cross-strung to give a homogenous sound across the full range. The Érard was straight-strung, creating different timbres across the range. That difference was used to great effect by the transcribers of piano four-hand music. 

The opening selection by Ignaz Moscheles was originally conceived for piano four-hands. Moscheles was a piano virtuoso, though he scaled the technique back for this work. Nevertheless, “La belle union” is a composition that lays well under the hands. 

Transcriptions were a big part of the piano four-hands music market. This album includes a transcription of Richard Wagner’s “Lohengrin” Vorspiel. The music attests to the work’s popularity. 

French composer Pierre-François Boëly arranged his third string quartet for piano four-hands. String quartets translate well to the medium. And it’s likely Boëly saw more music sales with this version of the work, as opposed to the original.

Augusta Holmès also contributes a transcription. This Irish/French composer. The “Poeme symphonique” was written in 1853, inspired by the Polish independence movement. Her message saw wider distribution in homes across France than in the concert hall. 

Stephanie McCallum and Erin Helyard make a great team. They play with one accord, and the music benefits. There were times when I couldn’t tell if one or two people were playing. The pair bring out the Romantic expression in these works, without over-doing it. 

An interesting audio recreation of a time gone by. And a revival of some sadly-neglected repertoire.  

 Four Hands at Home: Domestic Music-Making in the Mid-Nineteenth Century
Stephanie McCallum and Erin Helyard, piano four-hands
Toccata Classics TOCN 0031 

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