Saturday, August 9, 2014

It Takes Two to Tango, Samba, Waltz (And Do a Sacrificial Dance)

  The duo-piano team Christina and Michelle Naughton offered a most impressive program August 5th presented by the Naumburg Orchestral Concerts on a warm clear moonlit night. A welcome, if unexpected guest was a peregrine falcon who soared over the bandshell throughout the evening. These poised gracious identical twins, who look much younger than their 25 years, are two mean pianists. They captivated their large audience (an estimated three thousand) and a global radio audience in a program of iconic demanding modern works, perhaps a trifle heavy for a summer’s night in Central Park.
They opened with a delightfully sparkling account of Milhaud’s Scaramouche whose clarity of texture balance and ensemble was ideal. In the Moderé the quasi-yodeling dialogue between the instruments was so sweetly naïve, though the samba that is the Brazileira could have used more maracas. John Adams’ ecstatic Hallelujah Junction was the pinnacle of the evening, and its complex cross-rhythmic rippling interplay was dispatched with thoughtfulness, aplomb and abandon, and along with the entire program, played by memory.

If the rapture of this 16 minute work could not be sustained to its end, it could be because these beautiful petite young women might have felt compelled to prove their power by forcing their loudest playing.
   In Ravel’s virtuoso La Valse, this wasn’t the biggest issue, though the long buildup to the climax had this listener thinking of Xenakis. This most indulgent of waltzes fragments and splinters the motifs, harmonies and rhythms by the weight of its own excess. Let’s not presume to ask these chaste young things to know a decadence verging on self-destruction. (The fingered passages a-la-glissandi were exceptionally superb, however.)
   After intermission, for all of its admirable precision, the incongruity in witnessing these charming seeming adolescents dressed in tasteful tunics re-create a ballet about the sacrifice of a virgin made Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring a bit of a slog. From the beginning the contrapuntal coloring of the various winds was not distinct enough, and the flow of time if correct was not electric. The genius of this composition is its brutality cloaked in the greatest sumptuousness. These siblings have not found yet the balance between the primitive and the elegant, the savage and the chic. In the Introduction to The Sacrifice, if the chords were judiciously voiced, lacking was the sense of foreboding menace.
    However, their Mendelssohn encore, Andante in A Major Op. 92 for four hands was magical creamy dreamy, their legato beautiful, every note singing and lyrical.

   As this curmudgeon lays his quibbles to rest, the Naughton duo certainly has a strong start to a very important career.

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