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Duo Amal

by Suzanne Yanko

The audience was bound to be well disposed toward the young pianists who comprise Duo Amal, thanks to their story, known across the world and most recently told by the Australian Jewish News. For the past four years, brilliant Israeli pianist Yaron Kohlberg and Arab piano virtuoso Bishara Haroni have performed together as Duo Amal since meeting in Jerusalem and joining forces in 2008 for a well-received concert in Oslo. International award-winner Kohlberg was born in Jerusalem in 1983 and has appeared as a soloist with major orchestras around the world, including the Israel Philharmonic. So has Haroni, who was born in the northern Israeli town of Nazareth and learned piano at the age of 12 in Haifa, followed by studies in Jerusalem, then Germany. Both – not surprisingly – have performed with West Eastern Divan Orchestra, which co-founder Daniel Barenboim describes as ‘a project against ignorance’. Its aim is to promote understanding between Israelis, Palestinians and other young musicians from the region simply by having them play music together. Duo Amal is clearly like-minded, with the two pianists close friends, something that translates into their performance: synchronised, empathetic and at times, with an edge of humour. It’s important to say that, quite apart from the warm, fuzzy feelings generated by their history, they deserved the enthusiastic applause they were given by this Melbourne Festival audience. First up, with no preamble, was Schubert’s Fantasia in F minor, surely one of the most beautiful works in the piano duet repertoire. Its lyrical sweetness may make it seem easy, but the piano octaves and interweaving parts can be a trap for lesser musicians. Kohlberg and Haroni found the power and showiness necessary for the development of the theme, before the quiet ending, a reprise of the theme. Duo Amal’s perfect synchronicity was certainly needed for the next work, by contemporary Israeli composer Avner Dorman. Karsilama added the inspiration of a Greek dance to the cultural mix as the pianists (now seated at their own instruments) used eye contact and brilliant technique for the fast-moving piece right through to the tarantella-like finish. The pianists stayed across the room from each other for the first of two major works: Prokofiev’s Symphony No.1 (‘Classical’). Arranged by Rikuya Terashima, the work presented a huge challenge to the two pianists who, of course, had to do the work intended for a full orchestra! The first movement contrasted a sparkling pace with a more delicate subject, and in the second settled to a larghetto, with one piano appearing to have the melody (played in octaves) while the other ‘accompanied’. One result was that the delicacy of the harmonisation could be more easily heard and appreciated. A well-known Gavotte then gave renewed resonance to the two-piano work, with the pianists appearing to enjoy the somewhat cheeky interchange. The Finale was very fast, but Kohlberg and Haroni stayed together and echoed each other, as if engaged in enjoyable battle. Loud applause showed the audience enjoyed it too. After interval came Amal (‘Hope’) a piece commissioned by the Duo from Palestinian-Israeli composer Samir Odeh-Tamimi. In contrast to the more melodic works in the program Amal employed techniques such as playing the piano strings directly with the hand or arm, to create sounds of conflict, contrasting with introspection. Technically demanding, the piece showed yet another facet of Duo Amal’s mastery of contemporary works – but it was something of a relief when the pianists turned next to Rachmaninov. His suite no.1 for two pianos, op.5 Fantasie-Tableaux, is in four movements, each of them creating an image, in the way of Romantic program music. The opening Barcarolle was reminiscent of the piano concertos, being resonant and rich in melody and harmony, with almost ethereal beauty in the upper register. La nuit …L’amour had the melody gently articulated and soon surrounded by harmony in the broken chords. Les larmes was gentle but not without technical challenge. With its loud opening a shock, Easter developed into a huge mass of sound that was pure Rachmaninov. It was all too short – rather like the concert itself, as far as listeners were concerned. But Duo Amal obliged with two encores that were exceptionally well received. Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5 Duo Amal Yaron Kohlberg and Bishara Haroni Schubert – Fantasy in F minor D. 940 Prokofiev – Symphony No. 1 in D minor ‘Classical’, Op. 25 (arranged for four hands by Rikuya Terashima) Avner Dorman – Karsilama R. Shapira – He is the One S. Odde Tamimi – Amal Rachmaninov – Suite no. 1 Op. 5 Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre 24 October Melbourne Festival 11 – 27 September

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