Two Hearts, Four Hands are Better Than One: Two Piano Recital with Pascal and Ami Rogé

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Pascal Rogé and Ami Rogé.

Sydney Recital Hall, Angel Place: 16 May 2011
Pascal and Ami play again at the Australian National Academy of Music, Melbourne, Monday 23 May

pianos – Pascal Rogé and Ami Rogé

Robert Schumann arr. Claude Debussy
Six Études in Canon Form, Op. 56

Johannes Brahms
Sonata in f minor for two pianos, Op. 34b

Francis Poulenc
Élegie
L’Embarquement pour Cythère — Valse-musette for two pianos

Paul Dukas arr. Dukas
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice — Scherzo after a ballad by Goethe

Maurice Ravel arr. Ravel
La Valse (poème chorégraphique)

While a piano soloist has special control over their music, and complete polyphonic music at that, that is to say melody, harmony and range and all the parts or ‘voices’ where contrapuntal, and this endows the pianist also with solitude, there is a romance fundamental to piano music, the two hands creating a relationship and complementing each other, at the very least in register. Piano music for ‘four hands’ is then even more romantic, the chamber music-wise relationship of the two musicians, the complexity of the music and the ease with which it can slip into a thick intensity, a knife’s edge from chaos, the twice infinity combinations of expression, unanalyzable on the fly and loss of a degree of control, leave even more to faith, and make this music an especially creative performing art form. This is partly why Mozart called the organ the ‘king of instruments,’ though a pair of pianos of course has fewer stops, it is capable of greater percussion and so a peculiar rhythmic sense which the organ can’t express in the same way. On top of all this, Pascal and Ami Rogé chose some very difficult music for this concert, which showed off their technical ability, but more importantly gave them the material to produce a vivid operatic sound, singing duets in their fingers while playing the orchestra part as well.

In the pieces by Brahms and Schumann, the deep feeling of their music became especially intense. Though you would not necessarily want a pair of Steinways in your (hypothetical) drawing room, the early 19th century drawing room intimacy of Schumann’s music was still there, by virtue of the Rogés’ understated style of playing. The Schumann études begin with precise, rather ecclesiastical contrapuntal music, more like a Bach fugue, setting up for the very personal expressiveness in the slower ‘movements.’ The Rogés were capable of beautiful softness in the lyrical parts, careful never to tread on each others’ toes whether playing in similar registers or covering the whole keyboard. In Poulenc’s Elegy, written in memory of the generous arts patron the Princess de Polignac, this care gave the somber opening, which is restricted near the middle register, a moving sense of loss, a tightness of bereavement. In the second section of the piece, the whole keyboard opens up and with the wider ranging, less thick and viscous sound, their playing became serene and poignant.

Pèlerinage à L'ile de Cythère by Jean-Antoine Watteau. Musée du Louvre.

L’Emarquement pour Cythère then provided some contrast as a nearly perfect comic piece, in the theatrical sense, and then the further contrasting Sorcerer’s Apprentice which literally is a scherzo. L’Embarquement sounds so wholesome and natural, and expressive of the exciting feeling of possibility of a good day’s dawning. The Apprentice on the other hand, is more earthy and grubby (it is about a broom) and the Rogés played it vividly and energetically, the layers and the size of the pianos’ sound lent the piece an especially scary, out-of-scale quality, despite its now universal familiarity.

A costume design for La Valse by Alexandre Benois.

Ravel’s transcription of his own music for a ballet (La Valse, first performed in 1929 by Ida Rubinstein’s company with choreography by Bronislava Nijinska, décors by Alexandre Benois) is wonderful and touching and was a perfect ending to the program. The Rogés’ locked-in sense of rhythm worked well here. I would love to hear them play Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s two piano transcription of Debussy’s Jeux. In La Valse, the waltz theme running through the piece, quite an original one, becomes seamlessly layered and modulated by more ghostly, atmospheric, less melodious music. The corporeal (the waltz when it appeared in the ballroom was attacked as vulgar as the partnering was exclusive and allowed the man and woman to touch continuously) and the incorporeal entwine and dance in the music. The result is a vision, perhaps of a wind-swept couple, trying to dance in opposition to the elements, trying to keep control of their movements against a greater force. Underneath, there is a distillation of some of the feeling of Zola’s J’accuse, marking the end of the old order, the Second Empire. It also reminded me of Max Ophuls’s film Madam de… (1953) where the camera in close up turns with the protagonists’ dancing and one isn’t quite sure whether the couple is waltzing or whether the world is dancing a whirling dervish, spinning and blurring around them. In a kind of digital (as in fingers) pas de deux, the Rogés provided the dancing in a way as well as the music, the romance, the darkness and the theatricality.

About Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller lives in Sydney and writes mostly about music and theatre, especially ballet and opera.

He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Sydney, and once studied the piano and trombone.