Grand Pianola Music
Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion
Les noces [sung in Russian]
Rolf Hind, John Constable, Ashley Wass & Tom Poster (pianos) [Antheil]
John Constable & Rolf Hind (pianos); Synergy Vocals [Adams]
Philip Moore & Simon Crawford-Philips (pianos) and Colin Currie & Sam Walton (percussion) [Bartók]
Tatiana Monogarova (soprano), Elena Manistina (mezzo-soprano), Vsevolod Grivnov (tenor) & Kostas Smoriginas (bass); Tom Poster, Ashley Wass, Llŷr Williams & Alissa Firsova (pianos); David Hockings, Alex Neal, Joe Cooper, Tim Palmer, Mick Doran & Chris Brown (percussion); Charles Fullbrook (timpani)
Reviewed by: Colin Clarke
Reviewed: 9 August, 2009
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
After the generally light fare of the afternoon “Multiple Pianos” Prom, it was out with the big guns for the evening. First, a rare opportunity to hear George Antheil’s Ballet mécanique (1923-6, revised 1953), heard here in the version for four pianos and orchestra. This was piano-playing of the very highest order. The four pianists were preternaturally together in music that makes substantial demands. Antheil’s style is percussive and rhythmic, his harmonies exhibiting debts to Stravinsky. To give an idea of the work’s fascinatingly perverse nature, one moment seems to be straight out of the ‘Tavern Scene’ from Berg’s “Wozzeck”, before things suddenly fall into unashamed chinoiserie. There is a manic streak here – think Stravinsky on uppers.
The performance of John Adams’s Grand Pianola Music (1982) was excellent, but the music, as so often with this composer, left much to be desired. Adams himself uses the verb to “putter” in reference to the music’s interminable, anonymous chugging. Three lovely voices (Synergy Vocals) evoked the world of Swingle. Elements of Klangfarbenmelodie provided the most interesting moments; otherwise Liberace-like glitter and a predominance of BBC Radio Two harmonies over a half-hour span makes for pretty depressing listening.
Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion opened the concert’s second half, Philip Moore and Simon Crawford-Philips in fine form. Their chords in the first movement were wonderfully unanimous, the turn from slow introduction to Allegro molto perfectly judged, and with plenty of energy. Perhaps more mystery would have benefited certain passages of the first movement, but such thoughts were erased by the hushed explorations of the slow movement (which never lost its sense of direction) and the incisive rhythms of the finale (wonderful xylophone playing).
Even better was Stravinsky’s “Les noces”. The four pianists’ chords in the opening pages were again magnificently placed, and Edward Gardner shaped the second scene (‘At the Groom’s House’) exquisitely, suggesting a real sense of ritual. The soloists were all strong – special mention to the soprano Tatiana Monogarova and the bass Kostas Smoriginas. Stravinsky’s exploration of piano and percussion seemed the perfect way to end this long, but stimulating, day.