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Celebration of the keyboard

02.04.08
Inon Barnatan, Anne-Marie McDermott
Ann Arbor News

There are reasons that the literature for four-hand piano - duets at one instrument and works for two pianos - is rarely heard in the concert hall. But they all seemed irrelevant Saturday evening as the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center delivered a perfect passel of pianists - six, to be exact: Wu Han, Inon Barnatan, Gilbert Kalish, Anne-Marie McDermott, Andre-Michel Schub and Gilles Vonsattel -- to the stage of Hill Auditorium for "A Celebration of the Keyboard: Music for Piano, Four Hands," under University Musical Society auspices.

It was a celebration that was a little like Michigan weather, only better: changeable every 5 minutes or so - until we came to Stravinsky's massive "Rite of Spring" in the second half, that is - but with no down-turns, only shifting moods and personnel and alternations between one- and two-piano works.

Wu Han, who is also co-artistic director of the Chamber Music Society with her cellist husband David Finckel of the Emerson String Quartet, built the program on a timeline from Mozart to Lutoslawski, and on repertoire that, as it eschewed four-hand piano's greatest hits like the Schubert F Minor Fantasy, demonstrated the breadth and strength of what is out there.

For familiarity, there was Faure's charming French treasure, the "Dolly Suite," played with ineffable charm and suavity by Barnatan and Vonsattel. Equally elegant, and very decorous, was the Mozart Andante and Five Variations in G Major for Piano, Four Hands, K. 501, with which Vonsattel and Schub opened the program.

Between these works came pieces for two pianos, offering the visual pleasures of a different sort of choreography between players and the possibilities of even fuller sonorities. Pianists Barnatan and McDermott were magnificent in the ravishingly beautiful Andante and Variations that followed Mozart's, the set by Mendelssohn's in B-flat Major for Two Pianos, Op. 83a, by turns dark and luscious, heavenly and fleet. And Schub and McDermott were wicked in Lutoslawski's "Variations on a Theme by Paganini."

Even more so were Kalish and Wu Han in "Rite of Spring." In its incredibly difficult one-piano, four-hands version, "Rite" only gains in impact as the pianists, like dancers at the keyboard, exert visible effort to create its percussive barbarity.