A sparkling piano duet recital by the Naughton sisters

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Ricordanza
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A sparkling piano duet recital by the Naughton sisters

Post by Ricordanza » Fri Nov 25, 2022 8:14 pm

With a little imagination, we can imagine this concert as a scene from the 19th Century. The Naughtons are holding their annual Fall salon at their elegant home, and the main entertainment will be provided by their talented twin daughters, who will perform a selection of four-hand piano duets. Indeed, four-hand piano music was a popular form of home entertainment (at least among the more well-heeled families) in the days before recordings.

But back to reality. This is the 21st Century, and music for one piano, four hands, is rarely heard on the concert stage. Fortunately, there are exceptions, and on Tuesday evening, November 22nd, the audience at Philadelphia’s Perelman Theater was treated to a magnificent recital by two outstanding pianists, twin sisters Christina and Michelle Naughton.

The term “talented” would be insufficient to describe these two pianists. In every piece on the program, they demonstrated complete technical command, solid musicianship, and that extra quality of the best chamber musicians who can produce a unified interpretation with absolute precision.

They began the evening with a work that most closely fits the description of a “salon” piece, Mendelssohn’s Andante and Allegro Brilliant, Op. 92. While undoubtedly pleasing to 19th Century ears, it is no less appealing to modern audiences, especially when performed with the verve and polish of these pianists.

Next was the most “modern” piece on the program, Francis Poulenc’s Sonata for Piano Four Hands (if we can call a piece composed 104 years ago “modern”). Poulenc’s gift for playful, even humorous music was especially evident in this brief work.

The Naughton sisters then turned to a work that is the very opposite of a salon piece, Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, Op. 134. No one would call this composition, originally written for string quartet, a pretty piece of music. One could call it thorny, austere, and unforgiving to both performer and listener. Nevertheless, it is revered by musicians, for good reason. In a spoken introduction to the piece, one of the sisters (I can’t tell you which one) aptly observed that nearly 200 years after it was written, it still sounds like a contemporary piece and would still sound like a contemporary piece hundreds of years from now.

I had never before heard the four-hand piano version and assumed it was an arrangement by someone other than Beethoven, but the program notes corrected my impression: According to those notes (by Peter Gutmann), the publisher commissioned one Anton Halm to prepare a four-hand version, but Beethoven rejected that “for having redistributed the parts for the convenience of the hands rather than preserving the integrity of the individual lines even when they crossed” and wrote his own version. Make things easier for the performers? No, that’s not Ludwig’s style. The result is a work of ferocious complexity, but the Naughtons managed to navigate these treacherous waters and deliver a memorable performance where every note and line was heard.

Schubert’s Allegro in A Minor, D. 947, was given the title Lebensstürme (The storms of life) by his publisher. Some of Schubert’s works are very lyrical, but this one is more dramatic, befitting the assigned title.

Gabriel Fauré’s Dolly Suite is a set of six pieces depicting occasions in the life of the daughter of Fauré’s mistress. The first four of these are rather conventional salon pieces which, although lovingly played by the Naughtons, did not make much of an impression on me. However, the fifth piece, Tendresse, departs from traditional harmony and is the most musically interesting of the set. The final piece, Le pas Espagnol, is an energetic Spanish dance, performed with great enthusiasm by the Naughtons.

The sisters concluded a totally enjoyable evening with a sparkling encore: Leonard Bernstein’s lively and rollicking Overture to Candide.

Rach3
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Re: A sparkling piano duet recital by the Naughton sisters

Post by Rach3 » Sat Nov 26, 2022 12:36 pm

Thank you, Ricordanza! I will definitely look for this 4- hands version of the Beethoven.

How was the piano positioned on stage? TIA.

Ricordanza
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Joined: Sun Jun 26, 2005 4:58 am
Location: Southern New Jersey, USA

Re: A sparkling piano duet recital by the Naughton sisters

Post by Ricordanza » Sun Nov 27, 2022 7:12 am

Rach3 wrote:
Sat Nov 26, 2022 12:36 pm
How was the piano positioned on stage? TIA.
The same as a solo piano recital, with two benches instead of one.

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