Thursday, 14 March 2013

MARCHEGIANI & SCHIAVO Piano Duo Recital / Review

Marchegiani & Schiavo Duo
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Tuesday (12 March 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 14 March 2013 with the title "Joy and humour in piano duet".

It is an unusual sight to see two grown men crouched over a narrow keyboard, especially when the stereotype of a piano duet is that of two lasses in a Renoir painting or the romantic husband and wife pairing. It is even stranger when the pianists appear stony-faced, attired in black shirtsleeves and looked like hit-men in a Mafioso movie.

For the record, Marco Schiavo was the clean-shaven gentleman who played the primo part while the bald and bearded Sergio Marchegiani manned the secondo role. This Mr Wint and Mr Kidd tandem maintained an unsmiling exterior through much of the evening, and one began to fear whether they were up to the job.

Be very afraid, when they come knocking on your door.

It was reputed that Mr Wint and Mr Kidd (Diamonds Are Forever) were very good with their hands too.

The recital began with Schubert’s Fantasy in F minor (D.940), which has to be the greatest work of the piano duet repertoire, a sine qua non of all duos. Shut your eyes, and the leisurely opening, bittersweet but not cloying, emerged with an unlikely delicateness that belied their appearance. This soon built into a head of steam, culminating in a busy fugue, but the sense of “fantasia” was never lost.

Next was the same composer’s Eight Variations on a French Song (D.624), the subject matter of which is a trite march-like theme. But trust Schubert to gild the lily, as each of the variations came across as inventive and interesting, at least in the imaginative hands of the duo. The ice had begun to thaw a little.

The second half commenced with the first ten of Brahms’s Hungarian Dances. This is the staple of amateurs who rejoice and wallow in their brashness and potential for bashing. For professionals, note-perfection is only the beginning. To their credit, the Italians possessed the sense of gypsy abandon, holding back for certain phrases and pressing on for the adrenaline surge.

There were plenty of felicitous touches as well. The lesser-known Hungarian Dance No.4 brooded and lamented for a while, and then launched into a music-box fantasy that simulated traditional gypsy bands and their joyous elan. By the end of the jocular Hungarian Dance No.10, a hint of a smile was revealed, albeit for a short second.

The recital closed with a rather effective transcription of Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra Overture (The Thieving Magpie). Even if one did not care about octave tremolos taking the place of a drum roll, one could not help the witty repartee between the two pianists as the patented “Rossini crescendo” was beginning to take shape. This was a performance that smiled from ear to ear, if not breaking out into outright hilarity.

The Italians’ encore was more delightful Schubert, his little known Grand March No.6 in E major (from D.819) which had an usually sedate central section. They had a hit in their hands, and it was nice to be slayed by a wry sense of humour.

Finally, broad smiles (sort of) from the Marchegiani & Schiavo Duo.

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