Monday, May 14, 2018

Sunday Morning Coffee Concerts - Christina and Michelle Naughton - Ravel, Adams, Chopin & Lutoslawski - 05/13/18

Ravel: Ma mère l’oye (Mother Goose Suite) for piano four hands 
Adams: Roll over Beethoven 
Chopin: Rondo in C major for Two Pianos 
Lutoslawski: Variations on a Theme by Paganini 

So what do you do when, after a cold, wet and generally dreary Saturday you are facing a cold, wet and generally dreary Sunday? Well, you go to a concert, of course. So yesterday I found myself in the Walter Reed Theater at 11 AM for one of those Sunday Morning Coffee concerts, which are intermission-free, one-hour concerts organized as part of the Lincoln Center’s Great Performers series. On top of it, since those events are about socializing as well as music, coffee is offered before and after the performance, and the performers typically come and mingle once their mission has been accomplished.
Yesterday morning, the power piano duo formed by eerily identical twin sisters Christina and Michelle Naughton was there with an ambitious program that included Maurice Ravel, John Adams, Frederic Chopin and Witold Lutoslawski. Even more exciting, I unexpectedly bumped into my friend Paula, who was busy splurging on macchiato and chatting up some tourists from the West Coast. And suddenly the world was not such a dreary place anymore.

The concert started with Maurice Ravel and excerpts from his famous Ma mère l’oye suite. Inspired by folk tales and the possibilities they offered in terms of musical creation, Ravel put some of the highlights of those stories to music to stimulate children’s instinctively fertile imagination and managed to enchant audiences of all ages in the process. The two lovely young ladies sat side by side at the same keyboard for that one, and readily started making beautiful music in impressive unison, transporting us all to colorful fantasylands full of strange creatures and exotic sounds.
I was very much looking forward to Adams’ Roll over Beethoven, which the Naughtons premiered in New York City’s Greene Space. Taking as starting points elements from Beethoven’s œuvre ─ a thematic fragment from the Scherzo of his piano sonata in A-flat major, Op. 110, the melody from the opening of Op. 110 and a fragment from the “Diabelli” Variations ─ Adams did his own thing. Turned out that the piece is seriously complex, but a lot of fun too, a cool duality that the pianists, facing each other at their own piano now, conveyed with plenty of enthusiasm and flair. It did not immediately sweep me away like some of my all-time Adams favorites such as Shaker Loops or Harmonielehre did, but I still found this wild Beethovian ride very enjoyable.
Chopin being Chopin, the appearance of his name on a piano-centric program was no surprise. Although it was never published during the composer’s lifetime, his Rondo in C major for Two Pianos is a lively, unabashedly Romantic, carefree little romp that kept the mood in the theater buoyant and elevated.
The Lutoslawski’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini were a brief and thrilling exercise, complete with myriads of virtuosic sparks flying everywhere. Sometimes it is the shortest piece that makes the biggest impact, and while all works on the program had been a joy to listen to, this scintillating little gem may have gotten the loudest ovation.

It had been a terrific performance, and we made sure to let the duo know our appreciation of it. They eventually came back, on the same side of a piano this time, for the Allegro molto of Mozart’s Sonata for Piano Four Hands in D major, another delightful miniature bursting with inventiveness and joie de vivre, which concluded this wonderful hour on a much needed positive note, before we eventually all headed back out in the rain.

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