On its first outing in this partnership, David Heid and Deborah Lee Hollis (note the matching initials) gave a delightful recital of mostly little-known and infrequently heard works for piano four hands in Duke's Nelson Music Room on September 28. Throughout the evening, Hollis handled the Primo , or upper registers and Heid the Secondo , or lower ones plus the pedals, with some occasional cross-hand work between them. They even worked as a team for turning the pages, with whichever one had a rest or fewer notes to play handling the task, although Hollis seemed to have the biggest share. The synchronization was strikingly smooth, and so was the entire performance, which was well received by the enthusiastic audience making up the substantial if far from full house. They also managed the volume levels extremely well so as to avoid completely any unpleasant or deafening reverberations in this very live hall. Bravo! It's not easy to do.
The program offered a nice variety of nationalities and periods, opening with the early Beethoven (1796) Sonata in D Major, Op. 6, charming if lightweight, with pleasing melodies traded off between the registers and upbeat tempos and rhythms, and consequently a good appetizer. This was followed by the longest single work on the bill of fare, Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann , Op. 23 (1863), a noticeably well-constructed work - Brahms is good at this genre; the justifiably famous Haydn Variations spring immediately to mind - with each of the ten variations seeming to have a slightly faster tempo than the previous one (One felt like a waltz, another was in a march tempo, and one was quite majestic.), with the theme being clearly restated at the end of the tenth. The source of the theme is the "Letzter Gedanke" ("Last Thought") theme, on which he wrote five variations himself, that Schumann set down just before his attempted suicide in 1854 that led to his confinement in an asylum until his death two years later. It was brilliantly played, and well deserves to be heard more often. The first half concluded with Poulenc's six-minute Sonata for Piano Four Hands (1918, rev. 1939), the only work on the program that is somewhat familiar or occasionally played. It is a simple, bright, spectacular piece, with echoes of Stravinsky and Satie, composed while Poulenc was serving in the military as World War I was winding down, reportedly at the keyboard of a piano in an elementary school.
The second half was entirely Czech, opening with six of Dvorák's ten Legends , Op. 59 (1880-81). These were alternately reminiscent in spots of his Slavonic Dances , which were originally written for two pianos, it will be remembered, just three years earlier, and some of Schumann's works such as Papillons , Kinderscenen , and Faschingsschwank aus Wien . We would like to have heard all ten. Like the Slavonic Dances , they are far more familiar in their later orchestral versions. They are filled with the expected interesting rhythms and folk song-like melodies that seem recognizable without one's being able to actually name them, as were the ten movements of the concluding work, Janácek's Moravian Dances (1904, the year of Dvorák's death). These latter, however, are very brief and spectacular statements, with much greater contrasts between them whereas Dvorák's are more fully developed.
The printed program was simple and error-free, giving all the requisite data about the works, including dates of composition and composers' life dates, and good succinct artist bios, but nary a word of background on the genesis of the music. No oral commentary was provided either. Listeners should have been informed of the Schumann source for the Brahms, for example, instead of being expected to do the research themselves. Information in appropriate doses always enhances appreciation of both the music and the performance and increases listener involvement therein. This is a disappointing example to set for the students who were present. Although it is not considered "pc" to comment on attire, Heid's Edwardian tux and Hollis' simple sleeveless black velvet gown with a sparkling white swath curving in a stretched-out reverse S from the right armhole/bodice down to the left hemline in an ever slightly increasing width were representative of their elegant but straightforward and superb musicianship. It was a very lovely, charming evening. We hope the pair will make a habit of teaming up, even if the area already enjoys the luxury of a few fine piano duos, some performing regularly.