A sizable audience, which nonetheless came nowhere near filling Hill Hall on the evening of April 6, had a very large size treat in the offerings of the Janus Duo and its invited guests. The evening, the last presentation of this year's William S. Newman Artists Series, was also very much an event, for it was the final solo appearance of the Duo, whose members, pianists Barbara Rowan and Francis Whang, are retiring at the end of the current semester. Chancellor and Mrs. Moeser were in attendance. It was not the Duo's final appearance, however, for they will also be the featured soloists in the UNC Symphony Orchestra's concert on April 24, also in Hill Hall, in the Concerto for two pianos by Francis Poulenc. There will therefore be another occasion to hear this outstanding team.
For their recital, the Duo chose one war-horse, albeit more frequently heard in its orchestral form, and two rarely heard works for which other musicians joined them. The opener was the former, Johannes Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56b, for two pianos, whose theme, the Chorale St. Antoni , is now thought almost certainly not to have been composed by Haydn. The performance was superb, with excellent control of dynamics, well matched between the two artists, whose timing and synchronization seemed perfect. The audience burst into applause, and rightly so, at its conclusion. It was worthy of being committed to CD for permanence.
Next up was Robert Schumann's Andante and Variations, Op. 46/WoO 10, for two pianos, two 'celli and French horn. The confusing opus numbering is due to the fact that the published version eliminated the other instruments because the texture was somber and difficult to handle. Cellists Stephanie Vial and Brent Wissick and hornist Pamela Halverson joined Rowan and Whang for a performance that delighted the listeners, not only for the rarity of its being heard but also for the unusual textures and sonorities and the quality of the rendition. In spite of its darkness, this was another performance worthy of being recorded.
After the intermission, we were treated to yet another fine but rarely heard piece, Béla Bartók's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, which, like the Brahms, also exists in an orchestral version - in this case, as the Concerto for Two Pianos. Rowan and Whang were joined by percussionists Lynn Glassock and Andrew Hummer, the latter a graduating senior and student of the former. It was most fitting that one of the evening's musicians be a talented student, for Rowan and Whang have touched the minds and hearts of many of their own over the years. This is a gorgeous work, the fact that all instruments are in reality percussive notwithstanding. It is easy to see why, in 1937, it was hailed as the "most powerful and valuable produced by Bartók so far and indeed by modern music." As in the Brahms, the musicians impressed with their control of dynamics, timing and synchronization, none of which were easy to manage. The listeners were held breathless throughout. The performance was stunning, again worthy of recording for posterity, and, again, the applause veritably burst forth and the audience rose to its feet at its conclusion.
The evening became yet more of an event when Don Oehler announced, immediately after intermission, that Rowan and Whang's colleagues were honoring them by commissioning a work for them and dedicated to them, an encore-type piece, from composer Stephen Jaffe of Duke University. Oehler read aloud the letter to them announcing this formally and including the text of the dedication. This evoked yet another well-deserved standing ovation for these marvelous musicians.
The printed program, with impeccable artist bios and notes by A. Levin (although s/he did not credit the source of the above quote), was a model to be emulated by other area institutions of higher learning, some of whose music department faculty members were amongst the listeners and readers. They were accurate and informative, learned but readily digestible, and succinct while being complete.