Tuesday, 2 February 2010

January 28th at URC

With a proper pianist playing the secondo part for Mozart and Brahms, and then a swop for the final number...

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Sonata in C major, K521




This is the most beefy of Mozart’s sonatas for 4 hands, and also the final one. It was written in 1787 and dedicated to Babette and Nanette Nortrop, daughters of a wealthy Viennese merchant and pupils of the composer. Mozart considered it “rather difficult”, and since he was one of the most accomplished keyboard players in history we find no reason to quibble with that verdict. Difficult for the pianists, but easy for the audience. From the bold double-dotted main theme, the gentle second subject (which the other performer keeps trying to spice up) through various brilliant episodes and flourishes, the first movement is instantly appealing. Even the tender slow movement has its virtuoso passages, particularly the central, minor section. A deceptively simple, almost twee theme sets the tone for the rondo. The pianists keep interrupting each other, sometimes to change the mood, sometimes to amplify it, and sometimes as if to say ‘I can do better than that’. The coda is robust, and some silky chromaticism slides the music to its jubilant conclusion.

Johannes Brahms, Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, Op.23

With a slow-moving theme built of falling scales and a date of composition just a few years after Schumann’s death, we have a recipe for a very moving work. The first three variations grow in their complexity and figuration before a dirge in E flat minor (redolent of the Horn Trio’s Adagio) almost brings everything to a halt. After that Brahms takes in a graceful Viennese waltz, a rambunctious pub ditty, a meandering study in thirds, a sinister scherzo, and a dark, angry outburst before the final variation. This is a slow march, celebratory yet tinged with sadness – not the sadness of a funeral but of warm memories of a chapter now closed.

Erik Satie, “La belle Excentrique”, a serious ballet

1. Grand Ritournelle

2. Marche Franco-Lumière

3. Valse du “mysteriex baiser dans l’oeil”

4. Cancan grand-mondain

This little suite is utterly ridiculous from start to finish – both in its musical ideas and in the challenges set for the performers, who keep jumping in each other’s way, reaching over and even crashing into each other. Originally an orchestral ballet score for the famous French dancer Madame Caryathis, Satie penned it in 1920 and 1921, before making the arrangement for two pianists in 1922. Enigmatic as ever, he commented on the work, “My music likes an atmosphere: a woman calling to mind more a zebra than a doe”. The Marche contains hints of the theme to Spiderman (particularly in its incarnation as ‘Spider Pig’ in The Simpsons Movie). The waltz “concerning mysterious kisses on the eye” (!?) is the only dark corner of the suite, but it pokes fun at various dance styles along the way before the final romp, a “very smart Can-can”.