Mendelssohn: Allegro brillante, Op. 92
Adams: Hallelujah Junction
Messiaen: Visions de l'Amen
Another September evening in New York City, another season opening concert, this time in the Upper West Side's lovely and so convenient Advent Lutheran Church for a piano recital by pianists Christina and Michelle Naughton, who were headlining the always intriguing Music Monday series last Monday night. Since graduating from the Juilliard School AND the Curtis Institute of Music (Why stop at one, when you can make it through two of the world’s most prestigious music schools?) the young twin sisters have already built up a truly impressive resume and are clearly showing no signs of slowing down.
Furthermore, Monday's program was a decidedly attractive combination of genres, periods and nationalities that included the German Romantic Felix Mendelssohn, the American contemporary John Adams, and the French mystical Olivier Messiaen. I obviously could not have found a better way to blissfully unwind at the end of my very busy first day as a newly relocated downtown working girl (Wall Street, watch out, here I come!).
Looking eerily and adorably alike, except for their pink and blue flowing tops, Christina and Michelle Naughton sat down at the same piano for Mendelssohn's delightful Allegro brillante. A delicious little bonbon ingeniously served as appetizer, the irrepressibly melodic concert opener happily sparkled with joie de vivre and witticism, the two sisters demonstrating a real osmosis and an impeccable technique in their brightly colored four-hand performance.
Then the two ladies sat down at two pianos facing each other for John Adams' Hallelujah Junction, a highly rhythmical work that distinguishes itself with a brilliantly minimalist, tightly organized chaos that would actually be right at home in a road movie. The pianists dynamically played off each other and proved once again that they were in perfect synchronicity.
The main piece of the evening was Visions de l'Amen, the first piece that Messiaen wrote after being released from a war camp in 1943, and also his first collaboration with Yvonne Loriod, then his student, later his wife and muse. But even without this unique background, Visions de l'Amen mightily stands out for being a grand and austere experience, sweepingly displaying a wide range of emotions on its own terms, taking the time to breathe and follow its natural flow. Facing each other at their own piano again, the duo resolutely dug deep into the work and gave a beautifully heart-felt performance of it, from which emerged random extraordinary moments such as the turmoil of the “Amen des étoiles", the suffering of the "Amen de l'agonie de Jésus", the tenderness turning into passion of the "Amen of Desire", the chirping of the birds and the clanging of the church bells. Just when you thought that New York City could not take another ounce of self-important Catholicism, Olivier Messiaen showed us the way to true spirituality.
The concert had been kind of short, but very challenging for the musicians and extremely satisfying for the audience, so we would have totally understood if the artists had decided to call it a night. But no. They came back with a transcription for two pianos of a stunning funeral cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach, which kept us in an all-encompassing spiritual mood while ending the evening on a flawlessly serene note.