A triumph of the piano squared!
It was good to see the platform at the Kings Hall last Wednesday filled by Bradford’s matching Steinway grand pianos in a rare joint outing. A two-piano recital is itself a rare event and the audience can have been hardly prepared for the volume and variety of sound that two pianos can together make. It was not so much twice the sound as the effect of the piano squared! This concert was a triumphant end to what has been an exceptional season for Ilkley Concert Club.
The players were Noriko Ogawa and Peter Donohoe, both feted as solo performers as well as a duo. They had chosen a programme of music largely early twentieth century that both celebrated the dance but had its darker side. They got off to a sparkling start with Milhaud’s Scaramouche, full of syncopation and lively Brazilian rhythms. This was followed by the much less well-known En blanc et noir of Debussy – a suite, written during World War I, which both explores the limits of the piano with its black and white keys and reflects the struggle between good and evil that was obsessing Debussy. This fascinating piece looks beyond Debussy’s impressionistic style towards the dissonance of his younger contemporaries. Ravel’s study of the ‘birth, decay and destruction‘ of the waltz – La Valse – of four year’s later rounded off the first half. From the first visceral rumblings through the majestic sweep of the waltz rhythms of the central section to the dark apocalyptic ending, Donohoe and Ogawa were complete in their control over this pianistic masterwork.
After the interval, the excited and engaged audience was treated to a wonderful celebration of Rachmaninov – two pieces from his early suite for two pianos followed by his last work the Symphonic Dances – a symphony in all but name. As with La Valse, pianists must be conscious that the audience is familiar with the orchestral version and that they need to capture all that inherent variety in their playing. There is no doubt that our soloists were more than capable of that – from the gentlest of soft solo passages to fortissimi worth of an orchestral brass section, Noriko Ogawa and Peter Donohoe were masterful in their sensitivity and strength – a true partnership.