FringeReview UK 2018
Pam Crag and Maggie Grimsdell gave a Four Hand Piano Recital of some rare and better-known music: Chaminade, Schubert, Dvorak, Weiner, Gliere, Gavrilin, and Grieg.
This is another of those partnerships that needs flagging, particularly as it’s a rarer combo these days. Pam Crag and Maggie Grimsdell return to give another consummate four-hand piano recital at Chapel Royal.
This isn’t obviously a two-piano combination, so there isn’t that richness and clangour associated with that rather expensive line-up. But there’s a tightness and concentrated power instead; it’s still four-hands.
Instead the four-hand partnership flourished from the early 19th century and Schubert wrote many works including several masterpieces for it – two marches figure alter on. There’s a lot more repertoire, some first-rate music, that doesn’t get aired or gets adapted because there’s less of this in evidence. But there’s been a revival recently.
First were a trio of Chaminade pieces. With several later composers like Poulenc, Tailleferre, Milhaud and even Messiaen contributing major works it’s as if this combo crossed from Germany to France at the turn of the 20th century.
Chaminade’s trio is known generically as Pieces Romantiques which doesn’t tell us much. The sound – Chaminade’s had a good revival these past twenty years and rightly so. This sounds if you don’t know her sound-world a little like Fauré and perhaps a touch of Massenet. There’s jouissance so to speak. ‘Primavera’s alluring jaunt gives way to ‘Sérenade d’Automne’ as a lilty melancholic slower movement and finally a generic ‘La Chaisse de Porteur’s – cabbies to us. Chaminade’s sonance is enormously appealing and grounded in a complete mastery of how this music should go, balanced but never thin or merely aromatic. This duo seem to possess the same understanding. They play as one.
Crag and Grimsdell swapped places when playing the second of these twinned works. Schubert’s rather fiendish Deux Marches Charactérisques Op 121 (Deutsch 968b) from 1826 are both denser and trickier than you’d credit. Schubert made a speciality of this medium – it fits into four CDs and forms the backbone of this repertoire. These late works are tinged with a driven quality you see in the great F minor fantasia D940. So the first is a slightly grim bustling march, as if the fell sergeant death were strictly beating his arrest, and the second’s only slightly jauntier in tone, opening up possibilities of respite. They gleam with Viennese charm but there’s something like a rictus grin underneath. And the piano parts are extraordinarily dense.
Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance No. 10 (Op 72/2) was a sad balm after that, emphasising the legato elements of this couple’s playing, one of Dvorak’s loveliest and most tinged with regret.
The Leo Weiner that followed –the Fox Dance from his Hungarian Dances – is a perkier, more peppery thing with a distinct sound-world. An underrated pupil of Bartok and Kodaly who spent more time teaching than he should, as his own pupil Georg Solti realised. He comes from that recognizable sound world, like contemporaries Dorati (famed as conductor too), Rosza and Verress. There’s no great harmonic advance on Bartok or Kodaly, but a sharper neo-classical cut, an off-centredness that’s attractive.
Reinhold Gliere (1875-1956) is known for his mighty Symphony No. 3 of 1911 and his communist-pleasing Red Poppy Ballet. His 6 from his 12 Morceaux Op 48 sound like Arensky in this kind of work. Think Glazunov and you’d not be far off. He starts of with the second piece, a Valse, a bit like Arensky or Rachmaninov in his two-piano works, then unbroken from the sixth to ninth pieces. Chanson Bergère holds an arching melody nicely supported, with a folk idiom discernable, then a more sophisticated winding Arabesque, a dreamy En Reve as you’d exepct from the title where the piano writing eddies beautifully in a haunted way, , a generic sparky Mazurka and the penultimate eleventh piece a romping spiky and memorable Scherzo. It was really good to hear this – perhaps all of them next tie, if they’re this good.
The most attractive new pieces came next, a Soviet then Russian composer, Valery Gavrilin (19389-19999) his sound world here – he was prolific in all genres including inevitably film-music – is not so far from Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and rather like the smaller-scale works of an otherwise more modernist composer Gubaidulina, her Fifteen Children’s Pieces. His pieces seem designed for children too. ‘Little Clock’ is a miracle of metronomic fun and wistfulness, and ‘Marching’ ends in a suspended chord. The melodic freshness and off-kilter memorability of these works suggest we’ve been missing an exquisite possibly major voice.
Finally Grieg’s Norwegian Dance Op 35/2 – the perky one sounding like a tell-tale children’s jape – rounded us out beautifully. These artists are completely on top of a deceptively homey medium that requires a crispness you can’t get away with slurring unlike a solo recital, and a first-rate musical collaboration. The musicianship, that is understanding of idiom and sensitivity to different genres was unobtrusively clear. It’d be a delight to see these artists return with more, and perhaps more demanding works too.