Pianists give musically and visually captivating concert at DeBartolo

Inon Barnatan, Anne-Marie McDermott
South Bend Tribune

The six pianists from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center didn’t cause a riot Friday night, but they did make a wonderful racket at the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts.

All of the pieces on the pro-gram were performed as duets, some as four hands on one piano and others with the pianists at separate instruments.

Either way, the performers gave the audience a musical and visual treat.

Gilles Vonsattel and André-Michel Schub opened the con-cert with Mozart’s “Andante and Five Variations in G major for Piano, Four Hands, K. 501.” A light and innocuous piece, it had its most interesting moments during a particularly quick, aggressively played section that highlighted Vonsattel’s speed and Schub’s booming bass notes.

Anne-Marie McDermott and Inon Barnatan followed with an animated rendition of Mendelssohn’s “Andante and Variations in B-flat major for Two Pianos, Opus 83a.” McDermott practically danced on her bench, while Barnatan’s movements had more of a meditative quality to them early in the piece, although he did become lively during the concluding section with its faster tempo. McDermott played with fury on several blasts of bass notes, and Barnatan was energetic for the finale.

Barnatan and Vonsattel re-turned to the stage for Fauré’s “Dolly Suite for Piano, Four Hands, Opus 56.” The opening “Berceuse” movement was played delicately by the two pianists seated at one piano. The bright “Mi-a-ou” movement featured spry playing from both pianists, who both bounced on their benches as they played. As its title sug-gests, “Le jardin de Dolly” had a pastoral, laidback feel-ing of peace to it, while the “Kittyvalse” featured lyrical playing by the two pianists, including a moderately playful expression and attack on the keyboard by Barnatan during one passage. The “Tendresse” featured bold but not harsh playing by Barnatan, who then demonstrated great dexterity on the concluding “Pas espagnol” and its many quick runs.

As enjoyable as the first three numbers on the program were, however, it felt as if the first half of the program was simply a prelude to the second half’s “The Rite of Spring.”

Then Schub and McDermott played Lutoslawski’s “Variations on a Theme of Paganini for Two Pianos” before intermission.

The tone of the concert changed immediately and be-came compelling, not merely entertaining, as Schub and McDermott battled it out through what was to that point the most complex and demanding work on the pro-gram.

They gave a stunning, agitated performance of Lutoslawski’s discordant World War II revision of Paganini’s music. Schub and McDermott were both amazingly quick but also passionate during solo runs, and the whirlwind of competing chords they set against each other provided the piece with a dynamic conclusion.

Chamber Music Society co-artistic director Wu Han gave a humorous introduction to Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” before she and Gilbert Kalish performed it side-by-side — and over and under each other — at one piano.

Han spoke about the tour and how much the six pianists — who “practice alone and often play alone” — were enjoying their backstage conversations and working with each other.

“Only one pianist is allowed to pedal,” she said about playing four hands at one piano, “but when you play with another pianist pedaling for you, it’s a strange sensation, like someone brushing teeth for you.”

Han reminded the audience that at its 1913 premiere, “The Rite of Spring” caused a riot and also talked about the programming of the concert.

“After the elegance of Mozart, the Romanticism of Mendelssohn, the Impressionism of Fauré and the craziness of Lutoslawski,” she said, “there’s only one thing to program after that: Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring.’ ”

She was right: Only hers and Kalish’s physically and musically demanding rendition of “The Rite of Spring” could have capped Friday’s concert after the Lutoslawski.

They gave a riveting performance that never lacked for intensity or musicality.

During one section of violent chording, Han lifted off her bench several times as she added even more power to her attack. At other times, her right arm came up from under his left arm, and at others, their four hands played through each other, all concentrated in the same small area of the keyboard. Sharp intakes of breath served as signals between Han and Kalish.

Han displayed a great, dynamic sense of rhythm and emotion, while Kalish was in-credibly quick with his melodic runs.

Together, they performed “The Rite of Spring” with force, electricity and vitality of a full orchestra and gave the concert an absolutely captivating conclusion.