Polished ensemble, unusual repertoire, and charming rapport — do you like the sound of that? If so, this piano ensemble enthusiast hopes you were able to make it to the Dichter Duo's concert this past weekend. The Juilliard-trained husband-and-wife team presented a delightful program of some oft'-overlooked repertoire for two pianos. The pair's collaboration was remarkable, and their impeccable ensemble did not prevent the artists from expressing their own individuality. One expression of this was facilitated by the instruments. A Blüthner and a Bösendorfer, provided by Ruggero Piano, graced the stage. The lighter, more brilliant tone of the former and the more powerful projection of the latter did not interfere with the balance but seemed to reflect the personal styles of Cipa and Misha.
The first work was Mozart's "Fantasia for Musical Clockwork," K.608. Originally for organ, it was arranged for two pianos by Ferruccio Busoni in 1922. The "Fantasia" was commissioned by Count Josef Deym for his remarkable, organ-playing clock, which was a good step above the cuckoo variety. Even so, Mozart's creation far exceeded the limited musical capabilities of the tiny mechanical wonder.
Busoni's two-piano arrangement emphasizes the interplay between the voices during the intricate fugal sections. The Dichters' presentations of the subject were marked by careful voicing: not over-pronounced, but tastefully declaimed. The graceful variations in touch and dynamics throughout the increasing complexity of the first and third movements exemplified the meticulous attention to detail that is so essential to the interpretation of Mozart's music.
Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, Op. 45, was next on the program. The first movement's alternation of lumbering low melodies with descending light motives gives way to a lyrical, passionate middle section of heart-breaking musical expressivity. The following Concertino for Two Pianos, Op. 94, composed by Dmitri Shostakovich for his son, is a wonderful example of the layered qualities of much of Shostakovich's music. The characteristic contrast between forced gaiety, darker elements, and the rare expression of genuine hope lend an air of half-tragic humor to both the cheerful and the sinister melodies of this work. The Dichters' interpretation was clever and effective, although, at some points, Cipa's tone left something to be desired.
Rachmaninoff's Suite No. 2, Op. 17, is more characteristic of the composer's style, with more of an emphasis on romantic rather than nationalistic elements. The fiery introduction led into the unusual Waltz, which displayed the Dichters' strong sense of rhythmic drive throughout the alternation between syncopated sections and the traditional rhythmic waltz pattern. The melodies of the Romance, seemingly so reassuring and familiar, were both grandly sweeping and whimsical. The Dichters' minute control of rubato served them well in the final Tarantelle.
Throughout the concert, the Dichters used oversized scores, allowing them to dispense with the often intrusive and distracting necessity of page turners. They seemed to compensate for the compromised visual cues with an almost telepathic aural sensitivity. There was always a brief moment of disconnect at the end of each piece, as the performers never stood up together, but Cipa and Misha always re-established their connection by joining hands as they acknowledged the generous applause. Their rapport seemed entirely genuine and free of any manipulation of the audience's sentimental expectations — which, of course, made it that much more charming.
After a standing ovation, the Dichters finished the afternoon with a rousing rendition of the "Hoedown" from Aaron Copland's Rodeo, bringing the last concert of the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild's 2009-10 Masters Series to a rowdy, triumphant close.