Piano at the Peninsula

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Published: 13th January, 2018

Reviewer Margaret Arnold enjoyed two very different concerts featuring piano, on weekend afternoons at the Peninsula Summer Music Festival …Travelling from Melbourne on Saturday, the extreme heat was uppermost in my mind, but the lovely little Church of St John the Evangelist in Flinders was air-conditioned, and the KIAZMA Piano Duo’s 3pm concert was a perfect start to my own mini-festival.

KIAZMA Piano Duo. Saturday 3pm

Pianists Tomoe Kawabata and Aura Go have performed together since 2007 when they met as students at the Australian National Academy of Music. They formed KIAZMA duo in 2015, and while they also perform works for two pianos, this concert was for the one piano, with four hands. Performing on the 1889 Bechstein grand, a perfect size for this intimate venue, the delicate dance which makes four-hand works such fun to play was immediately obvious. Who will pedal this passage? Which one of us can turn this page? With which hand? Which limb should I get out of the way now, and will I be able to be ready for that next crossover?

Mozart’s Sonata in D Major K 381 opened the program, and immediately the warm tone of the old Bechstein – so different from a modern Kawai or Yamaha – came into play in the works sparkling scale passages. Sensitive to each other’s phrasing and articulations, the Mozart style was comfortable and musical in the duo’s work. Poulenc’s “Sonata for Piano Four-Hands” was also charming, but with a few more logistical issues, where Kawabata playing the Primo part had to stand periodically to reach across Go for some of her notes, the intertwining of the parts demanding that each player used more of the keyboard. Miyoshi’s’ elegant “Cahier Sonore”, with 5 dance-like movements in a similar French style (the prolific Japanese composer studied in France in the 1950’s) further demonstrated the joy of playing piano four-hands.

While composers have continued to write in this mode, in times before accessibility to concerts or recordings, people got to know important symphonic repertoire through transcriptions for four-handed piano. It was fun to play, and a domestic fashion to do so, but Schubert elevated the medium with one of his last pieces, the “Fantasie in F minor” D.940.

This masterpiece reaches extraordinary emotional depths and was performed with great aplomb by these excellent pianists, whose playing was remarkably well synchronised and yet remained capable of individuality where appropriate. KIAZMA will undertake its first Australian tour in 2018, as ANAM Artists.

 

Stefan Cassomenos Solo Piano Recital. Sunday 2pm

 Explaining that he selected his repertoire for this concert for a pleasant Sunday afternoon, Cassomenos began with five sonatas, all by Domenico Scarlatti. His selection of five from the 555 sonatas composed for harpsichord by Scarlatti was interesting. They were varied in style, some demonstrating the Spanish and Moorish influences, but all were performed with appropriate delicacy and discipline, with judicious use of pedal, and some very musical and stylish embellishments.

His next group of pieces were all recent compositions by Australian composers. Katy Abbott’s “Glisten” (2013) referenced Scarlatti in its binary structure, and was a very satisfying piece to hear, with lovely pianistic characteristics brought to life by Cassomenos. Andrew Aronowicz “Still Life” (2016) was completely different, with an apparently more serial approach, again performed with care and respect by the pianist. Netherlands-based Kate Moore’s “Spin Bird” (2008) a more minimalist work was my personal favourite of the group, and Linda Kouvaras “Shoalhaven Nightpainters” (2002) a sort of contemporary Australian impressionistic work, the aural equivalent of some paintings by Jo Bertini.

Cassomenos had obviously treated all these works with great respect, and performed them with every regard for their inherent musical qualities. He deserves special congratulations for championing the live performance of new Australian works to an audience which has likely not encountered these composers before.

Concluding the recital with three of his own favourites, Chopin’s Etude in A flat Major, Op.25 No 1 (Aeloian Harp), Schumann’s beautiful “Traumerei”, Op. 15 No. 7, and Rachmaninoff’s “Polichinelle”, Op.3 No. 4, Cassomenos again demonstrated his great musicality and technical skill. The 1889 Bechstein piano again provided a rich tone quality rarely heard in Melbourne recitals, and the intimate venue permitted some superb pianissimo playing that larger halls cannot support.