Friday, July 27, 2012

Kanazawa-Admony Duo on two pianos

Duo-pianists Tami Kanazawa and Yuval Admony, of international acclaim, performed a concert of music for two pianos at the Felicja Blumental Music Center (Tel Aviv) July 24th 2012. Proceeds of ticket sales went to supporting the Tel-Hai International Piano Master Classes, this year’s course running from August 5th through August 24th at the Sde Boker College in the Negev.

Yuval Admony opened with a few words about the annual master classes. The Tel-Hai International Piano Master Classes were started 20 years ago. At that time, Admony attended as a student and remembers the experience of playing for renowned pianists and teachers who come from Israel and abroad. The course’s artistic directors are still Victor Derevianko and Emanuel Krasovsky who, together with the late Marina Bondarenko, founded the prestigious project. Due to the Tel-Hai College’s vulnerable position at the time of the Second Lebanese War, the course moved its location from the north of Israel to the Negev Desert. There are many advantages to the new venue: it has a larger hall, attracting local audiences to attend events, and the magic of the natural environment has proved a great attraction to those students and teachers attending from overseas. Admony spoke of 80 young pianists from 30 different countries enrolled in this year’s course, with internationally renowned teachers there to tutor them. Master classes will be held by different teachers each afternoon and there are concerts every evening. Today, Yuval Admony and Tami Kanazawa are members of faculty, coaching duo piano performance.

The Tel Aviv concert opened with Johannes Brahms’ “Variation on a Theme of Haydn in B flat major for two pianos opus 56b. Composed in 1873, the variation theme of the St. Anthony Chorale – possibly a pilgrim song - was not composed by Haydn; rather, the majestic asymmetrically-phrased melody had been used by Haydn in a Divertimento. Brahms had showed Clara Schumann the variations in September 1873 and they played it together. The orchestral form was presented to Brahms’ publisher two months later. The two versions were probably composed simultaneously; Brahms pointed out that one was not a transcription of the other. With the orchestral work better known to many of us, Kanazawa and Admony’s performance of the work was enlightening, making a strong case for the piano duo version, which is the composer’s last large-scale piano work. The duo-pianists created the work’s large and highly-colored tapestry, Brahms’ writing challenging them to play to- and against each other, to create textures and moods ranging from the lyrical to the agitated, from the skittish to the turbulent, from the agile Scherzo (var.5) to the caressing Siciliano (var.7), from the heavy chords of an eastern European dance to the sophistication of the cross-rhythms and syncopations of the Finale. Entertaining and entertained, Kanazawa and Admony’s playing was rewarding in its clear, translucent piano sound, creating an uncluttered environment for the work.

We then heard W.A.Mozart’s (1756-1791) Sonata in D major for two pianos K448. With piano music being largely for domestic use in Mozart’s day, there were few works composed for two pianos. However, on moving to Vienna in 1781, Mozart acquired a proficient piano student by the name of Josepha von Aurnhammer, in whose family’s home he had taken lodgings, and he wrote the Sonata in D major for the two of them to play, completing it in the same year. It is his only completed work for two pianos (without orchestra). Giving Josepha the “primo” part to play attested to her ability; indeed, she went on to become a concert pianist and composer. In keeping with the composer’s D major works, this sonata is both happy and virtuosic. Kanazawa and Admony’s committed playing of it was yet another reminder that Mozart was a writer of opera buffa and that virtuosity does not rule out human expression. Once again, the duo brought home the importance of hearing a work such as this in live performance, the audience experiencing the interlocking melodies and simultaneous cadences as well as the exhilarating runs and arpeggios joyful to both players and listeners. Kanazawa and Admony’s playing of this galant work (probably originally performed on fortepianos) was, however, brittle at times, some of the crescendos gathering intensity rather too quickly. It was played with exuberance and dynamic variety, but I would have enjoyed hearing some more gossamer-woven, poignant Mozart moments.

Leonard Bernstein’s (1918-1990) Symphonic Dances from ‘West Side Story’ have been skillfully arranged for four hands by John Musto. (The musical drama ‘West Side Story, telling of teenage gang friction in New York, was written in 1957, with the ‘Symphonic Dances’ put together in 1960 by the composer, Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal). With the original Symphonic Dances score offering a celebration of orchestral timbres, calling for large orchestra and lots of percussion, (Bernstein was initially worried about there being no percussion in the piano version) Kanazawa and Admony used the fantasy, spontaneity and technique up their sleeves, creating the many-layered, bitter-sweet piano interpretation of this wonderful jazzy suite. As to percussion instruments, Admony engaged the audience in some finger-snapping for some sections. How articulately well the pianos can evoke Bernstein’s rich palette of harmonies: whether describing rush hour in New York or bringing a tear to the eye with West Side Story’s poignant songs, the duo-pianists did not miss a gesture, their frolicsome lightness and acute sense of rhythm serving the score well. With the opening motif of ‘Maria’ underlying the whole collage, Kanazawa and Admony swept the audience off their feet with a reading of this unique work that was as fresh as it was brilliant.

The concert concluded with ‘Tangata’ by Argentinean tango composer and virtuoso bandonéon player Ástor Piazzolla (1921-1992). This short work was composed in 1965 and dedicated to the choreographer Oscar Araiz. The original scoring was rearranged for two pianos by Pablo Ziegler, Piazzolla’s pianist. A tango based on the dance style that had originated in the lower- class districts of Buenos Aires during the 1890s, Piazzolla added his layers of harmonic- and rhythmic vocabulary to suit the concert hall. The piece is rich with emotions of sadness, happiness, passion, grief and sensuality. From the outset of the work – its pining, reticent and autumnal-tinted melody placed over a precise, stable walking bass, Kanazawa and Admony set the mood of pensiveness, Piazzolla’s delicious sentimentality then bursting into a variety of moods and temperaments. This repertoire is right down these two artists’ alley as they meet its challenges with relish and panache, juxtaposing the piece’s majestic and singing moments with its daring dissonances and abrupt shifts of tempo and meter. The repertoire for two pianos is as varied as it is attractive; Tami Kanazawa and Yuval Admony’s playing of it left the audience eager for more.

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