John Adams: Hallelujah Junction
Schumann, arr. Debussy: Six Studies in Canonic Form, op.56
Debussy: En blanc et noir
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring
Leif Ove Andsnes, Marc-André Hamelin (pianos)
Two-piano recitals look, feel, and are very different from piano-duet recitals. Sometimes we have a mixture, but even then, performances look and sound very different, for obvious logistical reasons. Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc-André Hamelin offered four (five, if one counts the encore) works for two pianos, ultimately taking us to the very limits—sometimes, it seemed, beyond—of what is possible, even with two instruments and four hands, in The Rite of Spring. Stravinsky’s arrangement is actually for piano duet, but Andsnes and Hamelin reinstate some of the lines necessarily missing, at times giving a full orchestra a run for its money. A deservedly well attended, well appreciated concert heated up an otherwise dismal, late May evening. Maybe the gods were exacting revenge for a strange spring rite of unwitting lèse-majesté at Stonehenge.
Debussy’s own En blanc et noir opened as if paying brief homage to Schumann, then pressed on beyond. Its first movement offered clarity, direction, pianistic abandon and control, in as finely complementary duo playing as one could imagine—and then some. Tragedy penetrated necessary abstraction in the second movement, dedicated ‘ au Lieutenant Jacques Charlot tué à l’ennemi en 1915, le 3 mars’. Angels (la vielle France) and demons (war, Ein’ feste Burg) did battle, albeit with due ambiguity. This is music, not a tract, and so it sounded here. Anger, though, was barely suppressed, and why should it be? The scherzando, dedicated to Stravinsky, proved more elusive still, all the more so for resting on a rock-solid rhythmic base, above and sometimes beneath which passes all manner of musical entanglements.