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Katia and Marielle Labèque at the George Enescu Festival

Katia and Marielle Labeque

By Elizabeth Davis

Semyon Bychkov conducts the Munich Philharmonic in Romania's capital

Sometimes a concert can turn a day around. I'd arrived in Bucharest on one of the bumpiest flights I've ever been on and had to have a stuff drink before I could even face stepping out into the city. 

And thank goodness I did, because the concert I was on my way to see – part of the George Enescu Festival – was a joy.    The venue was the Grand Palace concert hall, which seats over 4,000 people – and it was packed.  
The Munich Philharmonic, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, opened the evening with Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin, in the version for orchestra.
  It was delicately performed and the orchestra brought out all the colours of Ravel's score. But it felt like an overture to the evening, rather than the main event. Though this was perhaps largely because audience members carried on wandering in throughout the piece.  
But things really came alive with the appearance on stage of the Labèque sisters, dressed head to toe in black and each wearing vertiginously high stilettos. These two firecrackers of the piano world sat down to perform Poulenc's Concerto for Two Pianos. Or at least they sat down momentarily, before they began to play, after which they were leaping out of their seats, swaying, practically dancing as they effortlessly fizzed their way through the fiendishly difficult piece (there's a YouTube vide of them performing the work at the BBC Proms in 1995 here).
  The two women's characters shone through and their presence on stage was electrifying. Where previously the audience had been restless, their thoughts still on the outside world, the Labèque sisters forcibly dragged their attention to the stage – no mean feat in a concert hall of this size.   
And their two encores we no less impressive – a couple of bluesy miniatures which gave the two players a chance to show off their jazz credentials. 
  I left the hall with a spring in my step and a determination to catch the piano duo next time they're in the UK.