Graeme Gilling/Jana Kovar/Mark Coughlan (pianos)

Conservatorium Auditorium

reviewed by Neville Cohn

It would have been surprising if any of the audience gathered to hear Bruch’s Concerto for two pianos had ever heard the work before – or even heard of its existence. Although it is available on an EMI LP, very few seem to be aware of its existence.

Graeme Gilling gave a fascinating little prefatory talk in which he explained that Bruch’s concerto had been written on commission for a piano duo – sisters Ottilie and Rose Sutro in the USA. But due to irreconcilable disputes about the concerto between composer and the duo, the work had never been performed by the commissioners.

After the death of the duo, their assets were auctioned. Among these was a box containing miscellaneous scores with the original manuscript of the concerto among them which, incidentally, revealed literally hundreds of amendments to Bruch’s original.

This lunchtime performance would almost certainly have been the first public airing of the work in Australia albeit in a version for three pianos, the third for a keyboard reduction of the orchestral score and played by Mark Coughlan.

The sheer novelty of this offering ensured the closest attention. On the basis of a first hearing, though, one is left with the impression that the concerto’s chequered history is vastly more engrossing than the piece itself.

It is a frankly tedious, vast repository of musical cliches, a work brimming with fanfares, scales and arpeggios, much of it written in a way that makes it difficult to master in physical terms and – based on a first hearing – devoid of memorable melody. In fairness, it may well sound more meaningful when heard with orchestral accompaniment – although the cosmic dullness that this version for three pianos engenders does not augur well.

Earlier, Kovar and Gilling played Percy Grainger’s Blithe Bells.

Copyright Neville Cohn 2006


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