United Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2023  – Schubert and Kurtág: Leif Ove Andsnes, Bertrand Chamayou (piano), Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 22.8.2023. (SRT)
Schubert – Rondo in A, D951; Allegro in A minor ‘Lebensstürme’, D947; Fugue in E minor, D952; Fantasia in F minor, D940
Kurtág – Selection from Játékok (Games)
There can be few lovelier expressions of musical comradeship than the piano duo, especially when, as here, it’s four-hands-one-keyboard. I have no idea how well Leif Ove Andsnes and Bertrand Chamayou get on personally, but to hear this concert you would imagine they had been best pals for years.
The king of the piano duo is, of course, Schubert. He is one of the few composers who really took the form seriously, rather than viewing it as subservient to the solo sonata, and it was kind of inevitable that this concert would culminate in his mighty F minor Fantasia, surely the greatest thing ever written for the format. Andsnes and Chamayou demonstrated their ability to take it and one another seriously as they played it, moving from the spine-tingling twinkle of the opening to the dance-like Scherzo and the darkly final ending.
It is the unanimity of their musical decision that made it work. Everything they do flows naturally and beautifully from what had gone before, and everything acts to create something euphonious and lovely. Earlier in the programme, their playing was characterised by a great degree of playfulness. Schubert’s Rondo in A made the most of the format by using fuller chords, more textures and more scope for elaborations in the repeats, and Schubert seemed to have chosen an especially gemütlich melody to suit the four-handed form. Extra hands lent extra lines to the very rich E minor Fugue, and the A minor Allegro felt like a richly layered work of tense drama, almost to rival the scope and power of the Fantasia.
And it came as a surprise to me, at least, that Schubert’s latter-day successor in the four-handed format is none other than György Kurtág. Many of the numbers from his Játékok, which means Games in Hungarian, are scored for four-handed collaboration, though we also got a selection of the solo versions. Andsnes and Chamayou took turns at the solo selections and swapped first/second player in the duos, but they revealed Kurtág’s music to be remarkably varied in its textures and form. The range of effects was terrific, such as the peal of bells at the top of the right hand in the Petrushka evocation, or the Furious Chorale which, as you might guess from the title, treated the slow hymn tune like a stormy joke. Sometimes elements of beautiful stillness would appear in the midst of energetic violence, and the pianists played some of them like a still meditation, but always with a touch of playfulness. Kurtág called them Games for a reason, after all.
The concert was recorded for future broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Sounds.
The Edinburgh International Festival runs at venues across the city until Sunday 27th August click here for details.