Like most people, I spent the formative years of my life associating accordions with the cult formerly known as the Lawrence Welk Show (I still wake up at night screaming, images of dancing bubbles ricocheting through my head). It was not until I heard the tasty, melodic strains of accordion skillfully blended into the music of They Might Be Giants that I changed my tune (yes, that was intentional and yes, I am deeply, deeply ashamed). Now, as a proud owner of a Scandalli piano accordion, I join the ranks of thousands of people whose musty accordions sit horribly underplayed in some remote corner of their abode. This is all to say that when I saw the CD "Duos for Classical Accordions" sitting all alone on the music store rack, the guilt of my near-abandoned Scandalli was too great and I was powerless to resist.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I started up the disc. The two major pieces on the CD are Stravinsky's "Petrushka" (the 1947 version), and Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition", popular for spawning not only an ELP album but for providing music for the bluest little has-beens in the land, "The Smurfs". The versions on this CD were arranged by the two "classically trained" accordionists James Crabb and Geir Draugsvoll (should be household names any day now). The Mussorgsky piece being an old favorite (it was the third classical album I every owned), I skipped the disc to the opening "Promenade" theme and sat back to subject my ears to the horrible sound of strangled geese. Though sounding a bit "reedy" at times, the music was far from horrible. Actually, it sounded more like an organ duo than anything else. The music is so true to the original and the playing so precise that about five minutes into the piece, I had forgotten that I was listening to accordions and instead was enjoying the music. Though not as familiar with the Stravinsky piece, it too seemed to lack any of the horrible corniness that I hoped would be present on this album. Stravinsky's angular, boxy melodies actually seem ready-made for the transition to accordion, as though they had been waiting since 1947 for this moment. Though perhaps not for everyone, the strong of heart and ear will find that "Dues for Classical Accordions" presents a new twist of these familiar and popular works.
EMI Classics Debut : Duos for Classical Accordions James Crabb and Geir Draugsvoll
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, May 1998.