For Two Pianos: Marksmanship, Pizzazz and Whiplash Frenzy

United StatesUnited States Brahms, Stravinsky, Bernstein, and Ravel: Julio Elizalde and Michael Brown (pianos); Olympic Music Festival, Quilcene, WA, 1.9.2012 (BJ)

Having made an impressive debut as a composer the week before, Michael Brown returned to join Julio Elizalde in a two-piano recital that provided a brilliant conclusion to the Olympic Music Festival’s 29th season.

But brilliance was not the only quality in evidence. Brahms’s Variations on the St. Antoni Chorale—a theme traditionally but wrongly attributed to Haydn—opened the program in a performance that was as notable for its dynamic subtlety and delicate phrasing as for its more assertive strengths. It was followed by the two-piano version of the suite Stravinsky arranged for Artur Rubinstein from his ballet Petrushka. Here Elizalde at piano no. 1 and Brown at no. 2—they changed places for the second half of the program—wowed the audience with crisp articulation, seemingly instinctive unanimity, and accuracy of marksmanship.

The juxtaposition of Bernstein and Ravel after intermission put me in mind of Songs of Innocence and of Experience—William Blake’s title for a collection of his poems (masterfully set to music a few years ago by William Bolcom). On the other side of the Atlantic, as I once had occasion to witness at a party in Paris, Leonard Bernstein was inclined to comport himself under a veneer of faux-European sophistication that was more disturbing than impressive. In New York, all his masterly music-making and political involvement aside, he could behave more like your typical streetwise American kid; and West Side Story is surely the quintessential New York piece. Brown and Elizalde played seven movements from the musical (arranged by John Musto) with a seductive blend of swing and charm.

To Bernstein’s brashly exciting evocation of New World pizzazz and violence, Ravel’s La Valse provided a supremely cultivated and unmistakably European contrast. As the definite article in the title makes clear, this is not just a waltz but a piece about “The Waltz.” It depicts a world of sumptuous romantic glamour, in the throes of disintegration. Every aspect of this great piece—the apprehensive rumbles of its opening, the grace and elegance of the dance itself, and the whiplash frenzy of the forces that finally overwhelm it—was vividly captured in a performance of compelling artistry and power. It was a fully worthy finish to what was an outstanding 29th season for Alan Iglitzin’s wonderful bucolic concert series.

Bernard Jacobson

This review appeared also in the Seattle Times.