Four Fistfuls of a Lunchtime Concert at Cardiff

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart, Saint-Saëns, Bizet, Rachmaninov: David Doidge (piano) and Seho Lee (piano), Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff , 4.7.2014 (LJ).

Mozart: Overture from The Magic Flute, arr. Busoni
Saint-Saëns: Dance Macabre, Op. 40 for two pianos
Bizet:Concert Suite from Carmen, arr. Richard Simm
Rachmaninov: Romance and Tarantella from Suite No. 2, Op. 17 for two pianos

Pianists David Doidge and Seho Lee took to the stage of Cardiff’s Dora Stoutzker Hall at the RWCMD on the 4th July for what was a charming lunchtime concert. Postgraduate students of considerable acclaim and irrefutable promise (Doidge was the 2010 recipient of the Mansel Thomas Memorial Prize for accompanists, and Lee won the 2012 Delius Prize), their performances and interpretation of four challenging pieces was professional and intelligent. Both showed conviction and integrity as they performed Busoni’s two-piano arrangement of the Overture from Mozart’s Magic Flute, Saint-Saens’s Dance Macabre Op. 40 for two pianos, Richard Simm’s arrangement for two pianos of the Concert Suite from Bizet’s Carmen, and Rachmaninov’s Romance and Tarantella from his Suite No. 2, Op. 17 for two pianos.

Best known for his Bach transcriptions, the Tuscan composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni’s arrangement of Mozart’s overture for The Magic Flute is a demonstration of his belief that it is essential ‘to recognise the whole phenomenon of music as ‘oneness’’. Doidge and Lee, through their well-timed rests and opening chords brought out the tension and harmony of Busoni’s deftly arranged score. Wearing a flamboyantly laced shirt and sporting a glittering earing, Lee demonstrated great innovation, perhaps following Busoni’s assertion that ‘the function of the creative artists consists of making laws, not in following laws already made’! Doidge’s more minimalist style and poise (he wore a more modest black suit) resulted in a well-tempered duo and balanced recital.

Following Busoni’s conviction that music should distil the essence of its past in order to make something new along with his ideal notion that music is absolute, both Doidge and Seho played Saint-Saëns’ Dance Macabre with unrestrained Romantic swells. However, whilst this performance was rendered with heart and emotion, it lacked the gothic darkness that lurks behind the corners of the music. Doidge and Lee’s recital did not bring out the taunting quality of this piece, but it was certainly not without drive and feeling. Perhaps the character of death, who calls forth the dead from their graves to dance for him while he plays his fiddle, could have been evoked with more wit as ‘Death at midnight plays a dance-tune, / Zig, zig, zag, on his violin’ – to quote poet Henri Cazalis. Technically, both demonstrated flexibility and skill as through excellent hammering; Doidge and Lee evoked the sounds of the xylophone to imitate rattling bones (a similar motif occurs in the Fossils movement of Saint-Saëns’ Carnaval des Animaux).

As expected the Concert Suite of Bizet’s much loved Carmen arranged by Richard Simm, was virtuosic and demanded a level of fearlessness in order to convey Bizet’s unforgettable melodies and striking characterisation. In vividly expressing the torments inflicted by sexual passion and jealousy, Simm’s arrangement of an already perfectly constructed orchestration, left little room for the pianists to interpret, let alone embody the sumptuous overflow of emotion exuded in Bizet’s opera. To quote the composer himself, in this piece it appears as though ‘Love is a rebellious bird that nobody can tame, and it’s all in vain to call it if it chooses to refuse’. Both pianists played with a degree of gypsy flare, but unfortunately in this rather jagged and therefore altogether lacklustre oiece (perhaps due to the abundance of slurs in expense of a more snappy, castanet rhythm), it felt as though this performance was, alas, a calling in vain.

Though their performance of Rachmaninov’s Suite No. 2 may not have rivalled Horowitz and Rachmaninov’s of this piece at a party in Los Angeles in the early 1940s or Rachmaninov’s performance with his cousin Alexander Siloti in 1901, Doidge and Lee were excellent.  Doidge and Lee performed the latter two movements: the Romance in A flat major (marked Andantino) and Tarantelle in C minor (Presto). Composed in Italy during the first few months of 1901, this piece confirms the creative comeback of Rachmaninov after four years of silence, due to the disheartening flop of his First Symphony. Stylistically similar to his Second Piano Concerto (composed around the same time) this work is lyrical and contains florid passagework and that atypical Rachmaninov drive; demanding quicksilver rapidity and instinctual rhythm. Replete with interlacing melodies and lush passages that surface out of an arpeggiated accompaniment, a lingering central section in the minor key and climbing to a frantic climax, the Romance alone is mighty in its scale. The Romance was swiftly followed by a Tarantelle, based on an Italian folk dance. This movement was elevated by Doidge and Lee to almost orchestral heights, where driving rhythms and disarming climaxes contrast with needlework passages, ultimately building to a virtuosic coda. The duo stunned the audience with their well-rehearsed performance of this piece and illustrated their ability to listen attentively to one another’s parts. After four handfuls of four distinct dishes, this was a most satisfying and indeed filling lunchtime concert.

Lucy Jeffery 

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