The medium of two pianos is one of the most exacting in all chamber music performance. Clarity, immediacy and precision -- all important hallmarks of chamber music -- are extremely difficult to achieve on two pianos, partly because of the distance separating the two performers but also because of the unforgiving mechanical design of the piano itself.
Nevertheless, duo-pianists Danny Kelley and Kelvin McClendon, in performance yesterday at Douglass High School, proved themselves well equipped to handle the special problems of their chosen medium.
Presented as part of the 15th season of the Lois J. Wright Memorial Concert Series, the two musicians offered a program of music by Mozart, Ravel, Lutoslawski and Brahms. Throughout, they demonstrated a considerable passion for the music they played as well as an extraordinary unity of ensemble and musical purpose.
In their performance of Mozart's Sonata in D major, K. 448, Mr. Kelley and Mr. McClendon projected both infectious mischief and rhythmic verve in the work's outer movements. Occasionally, however, unsteadiness and a too-generous sense of rubato sometimes hampered the results they sought to achieve.
Their reading of the central Andante movement, however, was exquisitely poised, with careful balance of sound and elegant, flowing rhythm.
This same rhythmic control -- plus a remarkable command of pianistic sonorities -- also were clearly evident in their reading of Ravel's "La Valse." Both abilities enabled the two musicians to elucidate powerfully the bizarre and mercurial twists of this scintillant score.
Brahms' F minor Sonata (Opus 34), which closed the concert, began
its existence as a string quintet (later discarded) and ultimately was recast as the well-known quintet for piano and strings. That Brahms retained the two-piano version attests to the suitability of the work's material for two pianos as well as the sheer abstract power of his musical ideas.
Mr. Kelley and Mr. McClendon delivered a performance of
passionate conviction that was especially well-suited to the majestic opening movement of the work.
The program also included one of two-piano literature's most entertaining offerings, "Variations on a Theme by Pagannini," by the contemporary Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski. The two pianists provided a masterly reading of this work, characterized at turns by a maniacal rhythmic drive, poignant lyricism and complete control of its thorny virtuosity.