In spite of the competition offered by the Mallarmé Chamber Players traversal of Bach's six Brandenburg Concertos (in yet another of the area's recent spate of "complete set" performances) in Duke's Reynolds Theater, about 300 people came to the same university's Baldwin Auditorium on September 6 to enjoy a two-piano recital by David Heid and Deborah Hollis entitled "Connections."
The works on the program were played in chronological order, beginning with the first of Muzio Clementi's two Sonatas, both in B-flat, Op. 12, dating from 1784. The outer movements were typically sprightly, surrounding an elegant, stately central one, none of whose tempo markings were given (surprisingly) in the otherwise model printed program. The artists' touch on the keys was nice and light, and their interpretation emphasized the melodic lines as well as the rhythms. It made for a very nice opener and Heid and Hollis connected with their listeners immediately.
Frédéric Chopin's Rondo in C, Op. 73, dating from 1868, followed, in the revision by Lee Pattison that more evenly distributes the notes of the now lost original solo piano version between the two instruments than Chopin's own adaptation, he having kept the virtuosic parts all for himself. This work is reminiscent of the composer's flashy, showy pieces for piano and orchestra, and the evening's pair played it appropriately but without any unnecessary flamboyance, a style that the audience, as well as this reviewer, truly seemed to appreciate.
They ended the first half with Sergei Rachmaninov's "Russian Rhapsodie" dating from 1891, written like the preceding piece when the composer was 18. The melody is Russian-folk-tune sounding, but the style is 100% pure, if not vintage Rach, and was played as such. It made for an impressive ending note, and the audience applauded impressively as well, rightfully so.
After intermission, we were treated to a lovely performance of Anton Arensky's "Silhouettes," Op. 23, Suite No. 2, dating from the very next year, 1892, when he was, however, an older 31. This composer, a legendary virtuoso pianist during his lifetime, is now, alas, sorely neglected, undeservedly so because his music is very melodic, well crafted, and beautiful. One of his piano trios was performed here a few years back on a Raleigh Chamber Music Guild program if memory serves, to enthusiastic applause. This work is in the style of an updated Baroque harpsichord suite such as François Couperin or Jean-Philippe Rameau would have written in their day, with characteristic, suggestive titles for the five movements. They are: Le Savant, La Coquette, Polichinelle, Le Rêveur, and La Danseuse, and their rhythms reflect the nature of the named personage. The third made me think of Stravinsky's ballet Pulchinella (dating from 1919-1920) as another example of the interest of Russian composers in things French and the Italian Commedia dell'arte characters. The second and final movements were waltz-like in their style and effect. The performance was impeccable, with good variation from movement to movement to delineate the characters.
Heid & Hollis concluded the evening with a fine rendition of Witold Lutoslawski's Variations on a Theme by Paganini, dating form 1941, when he was 28, and using the same theme that Rachmaninov used in his famous Rhapsody, written in 1934. The similarity ends there, however, for the style is totally different, this work being far more percussive than melodic, more driven than flowing, yet it is no less impressive and enjoyable. The number of variations was not given, nor were they listed, and this reviewer lost count, in spite of an attempt, getting caught up in the music itself. The audience approved of both the program and the performance and brought the musicians back out on stage several times for bows, but there was no encore in spite of the listeners' obvious hopes.
The program notes were very good, giving all the requisite information in a succinct paragraph for each work that brought out the connections between them and justified the program's title. The artist bios on the reverse were also well penned. The musicians bill themselves as "one of the Triangle's newest piano duos," and they are rapidly establishing themselves as among the finest as well, building interesting programs of both well-known and neglected works and playing them to perfection. One of our oldest, the Janus Duo, bid us farewell last spring, it will be recalled. We look forward to H&H's next outing.