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Album Review: Tales From the East
EStrella Piano Duo
Cover image of the album Tales From the East by EStrella Piano Duo
Tales From the East
EStrella Piano Duo
2018 / Sheridan Music Studio
56 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Anyone who thinks classical music is boring needs to check out Tales From the East, a collection of dramatic piano duets by Russian composers performed by the EStrella Piano Duo. (If you still aren’t convinced, take a look at some of their YouTube videos!) The Duo is Svetlana Belsky and Elena Doubovitskaya, both extraordinary pianists and teachers. Dr. Belsky is Head of the Piano Department at the University of Chicago and Dr. Doubovistkaya is Chair of the Piano Department at The Merit School of Music, also in Chicago. They began performing together in 2011 with a series of concerts that celebrated the great Russian masterpieces for piano duet. They have since performed all over the US, Canada, Asia and Europe to rave reviews. This is their second album, following their 2013 debut, Russian Masterpieces. Both artists are also members of the award-winning multi-piano ensemble, Pianissimo!, which was established in 2014. From the liner notes of Tales From the East: “The Duo’s repertoire includes, besides the usual favorites, many rarely-heard, fascinating works that most duos fear to touch. Their programs are always musically profound, but also virtuosic, often acrobatic, and occasionally humorous.”

Tales From the East begins with three movements from Petrushka by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) arranged for two pianos by V. Babin. The first is “Danse russe” (Russian Dance), a a wildly energetic piece that will be familiar to most listeners from its use in other media. The second movement is “Chez Petrouchka” (Petrushka’s Room), an intricate and dazzling expression of many moods and a variety of thoughts. The third is “La semaine grasse” (The Shrovetide Fair), a 10-minute tour de force that is often playful and carefree with varying degrees of intensity. I’d love to see this one played live!

Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) is represented with the epic “Festival in Bagdad” from Schecherazade. Many themes from this work will also be familiar to most listeners even if they have never studied classical music. Dramatic, intense and extremely flashy, I’d love to see this one played live, too!

The next four tracks are movements from Alexander Borodin’s (1833-87) Polovetsian Dances from Prince Igor. The first is the “Andantino,” made famous as “Stranger in Paradise” from the musical Kismet. “Allegro Vivo” is just that - a lively dance that flies all over the piano keyboard(s) with wild abandon. “Allegro” is often used in films and cartoons as a dramatic depiction of struggles against huge (if not impossible) odds. Dark and intense with an underlying sense of fun, it’s a great arrangement! “Presto” may not be quite as familiar, but overflows with joyous energy and dazzling piano technique. Themes from the “Andantino” movement are also reintroduced in a variety of variations. Awesome in the truest sense of the word!

The last track is “Suite-Fantasy on Prokofiev’s Cinderella,” an epic work at just a hair under 14 minutes. While this piece has plenty of bold, intricate passages, it also gives the EStrella Duo a chance to show their more tender, lyrical side. I have no doubt that Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) would be more than proud of this arrangement and performance of his music!

I am so excited to have been introduced to the EStrella Duo and look forward to future releases and (hopefully!!!) a chance to see them perform live! Tales From the East is available from Amazon, iTunes, Apple Music and CD Baby as well as several streaming websites. Brava!!!
December 20, 2018
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Contributing artists:
Svetlana Belsky