York 2

The Planets – Suite for large orchestra, Op.32 [arranged by the composer for piano/four hands]
The Rite of Spring [arranged by the composer for piano duet]
La mer – three symphonic sketches [arranged by the composer for piano duet]

York 2 piano duo [Fiona and John York]

Reviewed by: Chris Caspell

Reviewed: 29 October, 2004
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

After 30 years in the business John York felt the need to celebrate. He toyed with the idea of repeating his Wigmore Hall debut concert but, by his own admission, it wasn’t something that he relished and preferred to play music with his wife that was close to his heart. The pair has been playing together since their marriage in 1981; they clearly enjoy making music, though their competitiveness makes for some harsh sounds from the keyboard.

The Planets occupied the recital’s first half. The programme described a miracle of serendipity: John “discovered” a version for piano/four hands at St Paul’s Girl’s School where both the composer and latterly John were members of the music staff – John is currently Head of Piano. Sadly this Wigmore performance lacked the attention to detail and accuracy that one would have expected – especially as it is a work that this pair have already brought to the public in this version. ‘Mars’ lacked the tempo and menace that is required and the cluster of wrong notes was disappointing. ‘Jupiter’ and ‘Saturn’ suffered from being heavy-handed and the ‘banging’ in the fortissimo passages made for a quite unpleasant sound. On a more positive note, ‘Uranus’ worked well with some clear and well-articulated passages; overall, musicality was lacking throughout the 47-minute performance.

The second half faired better, the duo’s percussive playing suiting the Stravinsky. The Rite of Spring was originally a duet and was played by the composer and, allegedly, Debussy as a rehearsal aid for choreographic purposes. The piano-duo version brings out the rhythm and harmony that can often be lost in orchestral performances. This performance was marred slightly by noisy page-turns – surely unnecessary – and an insistence to play the whole of the ‘Earth dance’ at the end of the first tableau at forte-fortissimo. Overall though this was a well thought out and musical performance.

The addition of La Mer made this concert feel longer than it actually was. Again, this was in the composer’s piano duet version and has been available to play since the piece’s orchestral conception, but is very rarely heard. In comparison to the orchestral version, for all Debussy’s skill as a writer for the piano, this really is a second-rate transcription. As a performance, York 2 made light work of the technical demands with nimble attack and every phrase thoughtful. Wigmore Hall has a near-perfect acoustic and the sound was warm and delightful even at the back of the hall.

The hall was packed with friends and admirers of the Yorks. The feeling was of a huge party; and if the concert had fundamental flaws and weaknesses, it also entertained a large number of people.

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