In contrast to the high seriousness of purpose of almost all of the concerts at the Eastern Music Festival (and thanks to the organizers for that!), the spirit of Pianopalooza was one of silliness and merriment, focusing on the talents of the student pianists of the Festival (it would be interesting to know what their other activities are, given that the orchestral players had regular ensemble performances during the festival). With two pianos marshaled on the stage at Dana Auditorium, listeners were invited to sit opposite the main body of attenders, through the looking glass, as it were. The first half of the program was almost all for two pianos, opening with first movement only from the Mozart Sonata for two pianos in D, K. 448, offered with sparkle and fine ensemble by Morgan Lee and Zack Kleiman, attired in party masks. Particularly effective were the rocking trills, in thirds, and then in triads – Mozart at his most out-going.
Next on the program was the Poulenc Sonata for Two Pianos (1953), but I confess that I was baffled by which parts were actually performed (the first three of four movements were listed on the program). Artur Wysoczanski and Celeste Pepitone-Nahas were technically assured (and plenty loud), with a good sense of the composer’s wry humor. They were followed by the duo of Vivian Anderson and Yi-Ting Ho in the two-piano version of two moments from Copland’s Rodeo – the "Saturday Night Waltz" and "Hoe-Down." The waltz must be familiar only to those who know the score intimately, but "Hoe-Down" is known to anyone who listens to classical music, and it was interesting to hear such idiomatic writing for strings rendered on the piano; very bright, very rhythmic.
The only music for solo piano followed – a tone-poem, La Catedral, in two sections, by Agustin Barrios Mangoré, a composer known primarily for his guitar music, and indeed this composition seems to have been originally for guitar (no indication in the program whether the composer or another hand was responsible for the transcription). Maya Wilson-Fernandez did a fine job with the windy moto perpetuo of the closing Allegro solemne, with pellucid execution.
Closing the first half was another score from Latin America for two pianos, Le Grand Tango by Piazzolla, reinforcing my notion that two-piano writing trends toward FFF…Cameron Pieper and Monika Miodragovic captured the inexorable quality of the composer, and did a good job with a complex score, though there might have been more rhythmic flexibility and swing to the tango.
After intermission came a series of works for piano four-hands, with two Slavonic Dances by Dvořák (No. 8, rendered with little rhythmic nuance and at a much too loud dynamic, Maya Fernandez/Laylo Rikhsieva, and No. 1, with more swing, although with sloppy moments as well, Yi Cheng/Amanda Mei), four of the waltzes from Op. 39 of Brahms (nicely played, with more pizzazz, by Jonathan Heaney/Zack Kleiman, in faux Brahmsian beards), the Mexican Dance and Finale from Copland’s Billy the Kid (I wondered just how Mexican the dance was, or whether it was simply a New York vision of south of the border), and penultimately, an arrangement of "In the Hall of the Mountain King" (Grieg) for two pianos, eight hands, which suffered from the mismatch of overfamiliarity and under-execution.
The delicious dessert at the end of the multi-course meal was excerpts from the Grainger two-piano arrangement of themes from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess – the opening, followed by “My Man’s Gone Now,” “Summertime,” “Bess, You is My Woman,” “I Got Plenty of Nuttin’,” and “I’m On my Way.” This difficult music was masterfully rendered by Yoko Fukumura and Daniel Schreiner. A really picky listener might have wished for more breadth to the tempi for “My Man’s Gone Now” (what a heart-breaking piece of music) and “Summertime,” but Fukumura and Schreiner did justice to what is still certainly the greatest American opera, and the music which is an integral part of both classical and jazz worlds.