Royal Schools Music Club
Pas de Deux: French music for piano duet
reviewed by Neville Cohn
Although the days when family and friends would gather to make music in the front parlours of millions of middle class homes (with an upright piano, the pride of the home, a crucial feature) have long since gone the way of the dodo, a victim first of radio, then television, the vast mass of ephemeral music played on such occasions has sunk into well deserved oblivion. But there is an enormous amount of quality music for small ensembles that survives.
Among this is an ouvre for piano duet, not hack arrangements of, say, symphonies which once enjoyed a great vogue (but are now, thankfully, largely consigned to history’s dustbin) but masterpieces expressly written for the medium.
A selection of some of the best of these from the French repertoire was presented by Stephanie Coleman, (one of Perth’s most senior piano teachers as well as a greatly respected examiner) and her former student Jangoo Chapkhana (one of the city’s most versatile musicians who, inter alia, performs internationally as concert organist) unsurprisingly drew an audience that packed Callaway Auditorium to capacity.
An all-French program included not only piano duets but solos: Mrs Coleman chose Debussy’s Soiree dans Grenade, that superb Iberian evocation despite the composer’s contact with Spain being limited to a single afternoon crossing the Pyrenees to attend a bullfight. Here, the music’s elusive Andalucian essence was captured like a moth in the gentlest of hands.
Later, we heard Chapkhana in Faure’s Nocturne No 4 in E flat, his playing drawing us ineluctably into the composer’s unique harmonic world as he gave point and meaning to a work that in less than expert hands can so easily sound meandering and impenetrable.
But it was the duets that engendered the greatest listener interest, music that ranged from Richard Kleinmichel’s transcription of parts of the overture to Bizet’s Carmen, (given robust, emphatically rhythmical treatment) to Ravel’s enchanting Mother Goose suite.
I especially admired Mrs Coleman’s artistry in the concluding Fairy Garden in which tricky treble glissandi were near-faultlessly presented. I liked, too, the skill with which the duettists presented Petit Poucet with its tweets and coos – and Laideronette, Empress of the Pagodas in which notes were clothed in beguiling, bell-like tone.
There was a swift retrieval of the initiative after a momentary problem with page turning in Kitty-Valse from Faure’s Dolly Suite which otherwise yielded much pleasure, not least Mi-a-ou, given altogether agreeable skittish, insouciant treatment.
Earlier, we heard Debussy’s Petite Suite during which both pianists maintained their composure and a steady beat despite the intrusion of unwanted applause which broke out like a rash between pieces. Ballet, the concluding movement, came across with punchy rhythm and splendid sonorities in the middle range.
During the course of the recital, Coleman and Chapkhana alternated as primo and secondo players.
Prior to the performance, Josephine Symons, who is as versatile as she is gifted, showed – and spoke briefly about – her brocade piano cover, a magnificent affair in black with composers’ signatures embroidered in gold thread. It is being raffled to benefit the RSMC’s scholarship fund.
Jean Farrant, who is writing a history of the RSMC, warmly thanked the duettists. Ticket sales boosted the RSMC scholarship fund.
As always, John Winstanley provided robust piano accompaniment as he led the audience in the singing of the anthems.
An exquisite floral arrangement was donated by Ivy Lee of Abbey Florist, Karrinyup.