United Kingdom Mendelssohn, Schubert, Ravel, Fazil Say: Arthur and Lucas Jussen (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 3.11.2019. (JB)
Mendelssohn – Andante and Allegro Brillante Op.92
Schubert – Fantasia in F minor D940
Ravel – Ma mere l’Oye (Mother Goose) Suite
Fazil Say – Night (2016)
There is something enticingly intimate about Wigmore Hall – the Wiggers as it is known to its aficionados. And not just as it has been captured for eternity in Merchant-Ivory films of E. M. Forster novels. There is a distinct feeling that Helena Bonham-Carter might step through the door any minute with her posh umbrella as Helena Schlegel, or Samuel West with his tatty umbrella as Leonard Bast (Howards End): the E. M. Forster reality show.
Intimacy is what chamber music is all about: a few friends getting together to make music. This Sunday morning recital is the turn of Lucas and Arthur Jussen – four young hands at one piano. Oh Edward Morgan Forster if thou could be living at this hour!
Four hands at one piano has a restricted repertory. Two pianists at two pianos is another language entirely and the Jussen brothers have also shown themselves masters of that more frequently explored format: they told me their next London appearance will be with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for the Poulenc Piano Concerto in 2021. In which month? Arthur calls to their agent; March she replies. (There is something both admirably casual as well as singularly precise in their relationship with their agent.)
Mendelssohn’s Andante and Allegro Brilliant Op.92 (1841) is dedicated to Clara Schumann whom the entire Romantic movement seemed to be in love with. The Jussens’ performance puts all Romanticism on the back burner: theirs has an almost mischievous matter-of-factness in its presentation. Arpeggios and runs – especially in the Allegro – have a flourishing liquidity of sound. This is not the first time I have heard them make difficult music sound easy. Have I mentioned that they look like two strikingly handsome Hollywood divos? A handsomeness that belongs more to the era of Cary Grant.
Schubert’s Fantasia in F minor D940 (1828) is unquestionably the masterpiece of the four-hand repertory. It is cast in what is called sonata form (tunes, development, tunes in everyday language or annunciation, development, recapitulation in the language of musical analysis.) Except that Schubert gives himself a let-out by calling it a fantasia which allows him to break down barriers by serving up the development during the recapitulation, when a mock fugue introduces considerable drama into the adventure before calm is restored by a brief recapitulation proper.
This performance was more grounded than their recording in South Korea some six years ago. (Hear this on YouTube) In those days they let portions of the music take wing, which to my ear was more attractive. Now there was more insistence. Rubinstein always said every performance of any piece of music must be different. The Jussens subscribe to this. Like Rubinstein they create the same music differently every time they play it. Their next concert was in Ankara the following day with the same programme. But same is rendered meaningless when creativity is at this rare level.
I should add that they acknowledge assistance from two residential masterclasses they have followed in Brazil and Portugal with Maria Joäo Pires who guided them into this creative thinking. Ms Pires is probably the most expensive pianist to hire on this planet, but her fees largely go to her charity which helps the thousands of homeless street children in Brazil. She was happy to guide Lucas and Arthur providing they would give their services for concerts for Brazil’s young homeless. They were delighted to agree to this deal. Madame Pires is one of the most wonderful human beings I have ever had the luck to meet. And that goes for Lucas and Arthur too. It is clearly infectious.
Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite (Ma mere l’Oye) 1908-10 was written for his nieces but it proved too difficult for them. On the page it looks easy, though getting your fingers and mind around it is trickier than if first appears. It is probably better known in the much later arrangement as an orchestral suite, but the four hands version was the original. And the pianistic nuances the Jussens bring to this suite are remarkable.
The Pavan of the Sleeping Beauty is hauntingly beautiful, dignified and delicate with hugely skilled pedalling. Second came Little Tom Thumb (I use the English titles) which introduces some nice mischief. Then the Empress of the Pagodas echoing throughout in the pentatonic scale which only has five notes to the scale, each of a whole tone, as distinct to the eight of classical scales. This, of course, lets music breath in a new way. Then comes Beauty and the Beast and the contrast and transformation of these personages. The Fairy Garden ends the suite in dazzling glissandos.
Fazil Say (b. 1970) is a Turkish composer whom the boys commissioned to write a piece for four hand performance. Ahead of this, Arthur and Lucas did something of a Laurel and Hardy show, poor little orphans that they were since there was so little repertory for four hands. The audience lapped all this up. Another career beckons? The piece itself – called Night is evocative of that theme and fun to both watch and hear. The players, besides their usual position at the keyboard are required to play the strings inside the instrument while stopping or sustaining sounds with their other hand and the pedals.
But the audience were not ready to let the pianists go at that. They had eventually to concede an encore of Bizet’s Jeux d’Enfants – five brief pieces played without a break of children’s games and songs, all skilfully chromicised by the composer, which might easily cloy if it were not for the speedily witty finger dexterity of the players. The Jussens are ideal partners for such fun: the little dog laughed to see such fun as the dish ran away with the spoon!