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My piano teacher Joseph Werner once remarked, "It's a strange thing that we performing musicians do. A novelist or a visual artist can choose to work only when he or she feels creative, but we commit to being creative at a scheduled time and place." I thought of those words on Sunday when an audience of forty gathered at White Horse Black Mountain for a recital of four-hand piano music. The advance publicity from AmiciMusic had listed Philip Liston-Kraft and Daniel Weiser as the duo pianists, and advertised selections from Chopin, Dvořák, Saint-Saëns and Chabrier. Liston-Kraft and Weiser first met as fellow students at Peabody Conservatory and have developed a rapport over decades of playing together.
Unfortunately, Liston-Kraft badly injured two fingers on his right hand. He had to withdraw from a two-piano program scheduled for Friday and the four-hand Sunday concert. Weiser snapped into high gear and found a replacement partner in Alex Watson, a professional pianist and teacher who recently relocated to Asheville. The two met for the first time on Thursday, stepped up to the challenge of preparing two recitals in three days, with minimal rehearsal. What resulted was a demonstration not of years of rapport, but of a "quick study" by two consummate professionals. The program was completely revamped. Instead of the advertised selections, this "Four-Hand Festival" featured works by Mozart, Fauré, Grieg, and Moszkowski.
Wolfgang Mozart as a child toured with his older sister Nannerl, both prodigies accompanied and promoted by their father Leopold. Several early four-hand sonatas attributed to W.A. Mozart may in fact have been collaborative efforts with his sister; the Sonata in D, K. 381 is one of those. Watson played primo in this performance. The two pianists made a confident start in the first movement Allegro, but the treble could have been voiced with more gusto. The second movement Andante demonstrated better balance, with smooth voice-passing between the two players. And the fiery Allegro molto gave us virile chords interspersed with delicate filigrees. The transitions seemed a little tense, probably the result of inadequate rehearsal.
Gabriel Fauré's six-movement Dolly Suite is standard fare for duo-pianists, and Weiser and Watson acted more relaxed as they launched into the "Berceuse" with Weiser playing primo. I liked especially their rendering of the final two movements, the complex "Tendresse" and the evocative "Le pas espagnol." This was followed, before intermission, by a crowd-pleasing arrangement by J. Louis Merkur of Vincent Youman's "Tea for Two."
The second half of the program drew on the Romantic era, and especially continental European nationalistic music. The era coincided with a bellicose nineteenth-century in which political borders shifted often and the great powers of Austria-Hungary, Russia, Sweden, Poland, Prussia, and France fought each other and dominated lesser states. The German states and the Italian city-states merged into modern Germany and Italy. All this turmoil led to an enhanced consciousness of nationalist identities.
Edvard Grieg famously decided not to be an also-ran composer of Germanic music but a first-rate exponent of Norwegian music based on its folk music tradition. As Weiser said in his prefatory remarks, Grieg himself once declared, "there is a little smell of codfish in my music." Grieg's Norwegian Dances, Op. 35 opened the second half of the program, with Watson as primo. Each dance is an ABA form, and some of the themes are reminiscent of the familiar Peer Gynt and of the solo piano Lyric Suites.
Moritz (Maurice) Moszkowski was ready to move wherever in Europe his career took him, and he spent time in Berlin and Paris where he taught many illustrious pianists of the next generation. (He also gave conducting lessons to Thomas Beecham.) From Foreign Lands, Op. 23, is a suite of six movements (later expanded to eight movements) for one piano four-hands. Born in 1854 in Breslau, Prussia (now Wrocław, Poland), Moszkowski didn't identify with either Germany or Poland, but self-identified as a Jew. It was perhaps appropriate then that in Sunday's performance, the movements "Germany" and "Poland" were omitted. Weiser was primo for the remaining four movements: "Russia," "Spain," "Italy," and "Hungary." There was a brief moment of raggedness in the syncopated "Spain" movement, but the tarantella, "Italy" was wonderful and the final movement, "Hungary" came off with a sense of glorious abandonment. The newly introduced duet partners relaxed and enjoyed the ride as the concert concluded.
The two pianists were smiling as they greeted audience members afterward. They had pulled off successfully the feat of melding on short notice. When a professional musician commits to be creative at a given time and place, he satisfies that promise.