The 2002 edition of the annual Piano Pedagogy Workshop at Meredith opened at 8:00 p.m. on August 8 with an hour-long intermission-less performance by members of the faculty of music for four and eight hands (Were all these eights a coincidence, or were they planned?) that included just three works, all quite different from each other.
Opening was the two-piano version of Camille Saint-Saëns' humorous "grande fantaisie zoologique," Le Carnaval des animaux, composed in 1886 for two pianos and an ensemble of two violins, viola, cello, double bass, flute, clarinet, and glockenspiel (i.e., eight other musicians!). Our team was Donna Jolly and Kent Lyman, the latter providing introductory oral commentary and reciting the equally humorous Ogden Nash verses as a preface to each of the fourteen movements. The texts didn't always fit this version well because of references to the other instruments not heard. Neither does the music work as well to evoke the calls and comportment of some of the animals; the donkey, the cuckoo, and the swan seem to suffer the most. The kangaroo, the aquarium and the aviary seemed to work the best, and the passing from one to the other piano of some of the musical motifs conveyed the impression of a walk across the stage by some of the larger beasts. The pair made a really fine team, and the performance was most enjoyable, aforementioned shortcomings notwithstanding; they are not the fault of the performers.
Next came a piece that was for this reviewer the surprise quiet, hidden jewel of the evening: Bedrich Smetana's Rondo in C Major for two pianos, eight hands, composed in the 1840s. Lyman indicated in oral comments that Smetana did not write much for the piano and was so unhappy with most of what he wrote that he did not have it published. There is also a Sonata in one movement for the same scoring, which is original for both, unlike many works using these forces which are adaptations from other scorings. Both have been recorded in a live performance on a CD entitled Smetana: Piano Music for 8 and 16 Hands on the Matous label, catalogue # 00142131 (http://www.matous.cz/catalogue.htm [inactive 3/06]), alas not available in the USA, but presumably orderable directly from Simon Matousek - Studio Matousek, Ronkova 8, 180.00 Prague 8, Czech Republic, firstname.lastname@example.org. Our fine interpreters were Margaret Evans and Kent Lyman on the left piano and Angela Stephenson and Donna Jolly on the right one, the first of each pair handling the upper registers and the second, the lower. This is a lovely, upbeat piece, full of light and joy, and suffused with Bohemian folk melody and rhythm like many of the composer's works. A repeat hearing would be most welcome.
The third and final piece, for which there was no introductory oral commentary, was the Fantasy on Themes from Carmen, the music of Georges Bizet having been arranged for the same forces by Mack Wilberg. Wilberg (b.1955), a graduate of Brigham Young University, is currently Associate Director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and is also a pianist, chamber musician (former member of the American Piano Quartet), and composer as well as an arranger. The same pairs of pianists were at the two pianos, but they switched registers. This was a spectacular showpiece often calling for bravura display, and the teams brought it off well. Although as music, it couldn't begin to compare with the other two works, it brought the evening to a brilliant close.
The printed program contained good artist bios but, regrettably, nary a word about the composers, the arranger, or the music, and, curious inconsistency, the title of the Saint-Saëns work was in English while those of its movements were in the original French. It is unfortunate that Meredith can't seem to acquire pianos worthy of the fine pianists on its faculty and the nice recital hall their performances are held in. Nonetheless, it was a very enjoyable evening, presenting a couple of war-horses in uncustomary formats and introducing a very pleasing unknown work.