Randall Love’s concert of selections of music for piano four hands (duets and for two pianos) by Johannes Brahms, given in Baldwin Auditorium on Duke University’s East Campus on March 1, was suggestive of the state of Romantic music in the late 19th century. With the rise of the middle class, a mass market existed for composers. In the era before recordings and broadcasts, the only way to hear music outside of the concert hall or salon was to play it, most often on a piano. Many young men and women were taught to play as a social asset. Love explained that, in this program, featuring students ranging from freshmen to graduate students, he would take the traditional bass or second piano parts. Two pianos, with keyboards adjacent, were on the Baldwin stage. Only the back piano had the lid up – the front piano had the lid removed and was used for the four-hands works that took up the first half of the concert.

All the students demonstrated a good sense of style and phrasing, and the standard of playing the was admirable and very enjoyable. Ashley Price opened with the familiar melody of the Hungarian Dance No. 3 in F, the first of a series of works from this collection. No. 12, in D Minor, was nicely phrased, and Price’s articulation and touches of rubato were excellent in the very well known Fifth Dance, in F-sharp Minor. With Love on bass, nothing was wanting in that department!

Love alluded to the current controversy about the myth and possible trauma of Brahms having played piano in houses of ill repute. His sixteen Waltzes, Op. 39, come from that period, and Catherine Hansen brought nice color and rhythm to them. I particularly enjoyed the quieter more introspective ones that hint at the mature Brahms of, for example, the Third Symphony.

Eric Moskowitz joined Love for Hungarian Dances Nos. 17, in B Minor, and 21, in F-sharp Minor. Amy Tabb was assured in the irregular phrases of No. 10 in E, and brought the first half to a delightful finish with No. 1, in G Minor. Love recounted the existence of a crude early cylinder recording on which Brahms speaks his name and plays a solo piano version of part of the finale of Hungarian Dance No. 1, very faintly heard through surface noise.

The concert ended with the Sonata in F Minor, an 1872 arrangement for two pianos by Brahms of his 1864 Piano Quintet. I had missed one of its rare Triangle performances when a piano duo presented it in Raleigh many years ago, and I actually found this arrangement more troubling than the esoteric violin-piano arrangement of the Franck Symphony heard in Page the previous night. Chamber music is already “distilled,” so it was disconcerting to hear cello or viola parts realized on a piano. Jiyoon Im brought both a good sense of style and plenty of stamina to the first piano part, ably partnered by Love on the second piano.