Chamber music weekend, with pianos
When are two pianos better than one? There are few professional piano duos on the concert circuit, so the case is not often made.
Given the coordination required, married couples and sister acts may have an edge. Fred Hammond and Marina Berretta-Hammond (known professionally as The Hammond Piano Duo) teach and raise a family together in the Young Pianists Program at Indiana University. On Friday, they honored their Latin heritage with a concert at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Recital Hall, featuring 20th Century Latin American and United States repertory.
Their answer to the question?
Two pianos can be louder than one. Morton Gould’s playful suite Two Pianos opens with “Chords” — a series of simultaneous fortissimo chords that are subsequently dissembled. The suite closes with two right elbows crashing down on two keyboards.
Two pianists can manage more complex timing. The second section of Morton Gould’s Blues plays with a slow erratic walk — intertwined bumpy rhythms that one player could not manage. The impossible rhythms expand the humor.
The collaboration allows a song without words to become a duet. A lovely composition by Argentinean Carlos Gustavino, Romance del Plata introduces a singing melody in the lower register, followed by a mid register response. As the piece develops, the voices and hands intertwine. A lilting dance and shared synchronized rondo complete the piece.
A piano duo can introduce a strong piece that deserves to be heard. John Corigliano’s Gazebo Dances offers a suite with coherent variety. The overture develops into a cheerful gallop. A waltz unfolds quickly but with an unstable beat. A minor key adagio leads to a bright closing tarantella which explodes with energy in a major key.
Anton Arensky’s First Piano Trio got a second performance this week.
The Clarus Trio (pianist Eun-Joo Kwak, violinist Timothy Klabunde and cellist Adrien Zitoun) performed this work Saturday, October 23 to close their concert at Cardinal Stritch University.
Arensky’s trio features languid Russian melodies, especially featured in a elegiac slow third movement. But the melodic themes are balanced by simple four and three note motifs that propel the music along.
The Antigo Trio last Sunday drew out the melodies — drawing attention to the conversation between violin and cello. The Clarus Trio defined the work from the perspective of the piano – the percussive motifs were given more emphasis.The scherzo – a bumbling, comic, jumpy dance – featured loud, high steps – out of character with the rest of the piece.
This work is not all melody, but I preferred the emphasis of the Antigo Trio to the more dominant piano role of the Clarus Trio.
A more obvious difference between the two presentations was that the new Antigo Trio stayed in frequent eye contact, often exchanging grins as musical phrases moved from one to another. The more experienced Clarus Trio rarely exchanged glances. Each took their roles seriously, but coordination was more at risk.
The concert featured From the Earth, a recent piano trio by James Crowley, a faculty member at UW-Parkside , who also won an chamber competition for this work at Ravinia in the summer of 2009.
From the Earth is performed in response to a full reading of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. Rather than a dramatic oratorical style buttressed by music as with the classic Lincoln Portrait, the words were only used to set the scene. Apparently the intent was to deliver the words with little emotion, leaving the listeners to recall their import. The piece alternated text and music in four parts. The music was a contemporary take on the price of war in a fragmented country — dramatic, often shrill fragmented themes.
Variations passed the lead to each player in turn. A fortissimo section, initiated by the line “We are met on a great battlefield of that war” introduced the taut, minor key structure. Tension was expressed by a percussive piano and shrill strings, occasionally assigning pitches to the cello usually reserved for the violin. The second section – beginning when the reading ends with “… but it can never forget what they did here” becomes more restrained but remains edgy. The third section starts from the text ” … that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” This section is more quiet and contemplative, as is the last section as the reading ends. Shimmering strings, short bow strokes and single sharp keystrokes build toward more complete phrases, but never resolve.
The music was not trying to recreate the battle, only to elicit an emotional response to it.
The Clarus Trio opened with a sparkling reading of Mozart’s Piano Trio in B-Flat major, K 502. This is a light work with engaging dance melodies throughout. In late trios such as this one, Mozart increased the role of the cello.
Once confined to a background continuo bass line, the cello was allowed to echo the themes or more often to harmonize with piano and violin who remained firmly in charge. A languid middle movement featured a virtuosic violin backed by a sighing cello. But the piano led the way in the first and last movements, offering crystalline interpretations of the dance.