It was a quartet with a difference at Chamber Music New Zealand's Rhythm & Resonance concert - two pianists and two percussionists in a programme roving from Mozart to Lutoslawski. Diedre Irons and Michael Endres provided a charming overture with the Mozart's D major Sonata K 448. Even on side-by-side Steinways, the work retained its froth and dazzle, from the fanfares and ripples of its opening Allegro.
A briskly paced Andante had the players enjoying Mozart's piquant dissonances; in the Finale, they came up with a bristling mix of Turkish and gypsy exuberance. Lenny Sakofsky and Thomas Guldborg then played Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin, transcribed by Guldborg for mallet instruments. Predominantly for marimbas and often sounding like a liquid-toned, ghostly gamelan, this sensitive reworking had Sakofsky moving to vibes at one point so Ravel's Minuet could better linger in the air.
After interval came Bartok's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, a 1938 masterpiece doomed to too few performances because of its unusual forces. This offered full-on drama and proved the perfect taster for View from Olympus, John Psathas' piano and percussion concerto playing in Auckland tomorrow night. Guldborg and Irons led the ensemble through the challenging journey of Bartok's first movement, inexorably building up textures until all exploded in a fiery Allegro molto.
The middle movement was in the vein of the composer's signature "night music" at its most chilling - dark poetry with evanescent washes of sound and nervy stuttering motives being passed around the players.
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The Finale opened with a splash of colour that could have heralded a Slavic Carnival of the Animals. However, Sakofsky's spiky xylophone tune had other plans, setting off a breathless rush that eventually escalated into a final tongue-in-cheek C major cadence.
After this, Lutoslawski's short Variations on a theme by Paganini came across as a brilliantly delivered encore. The composer sanctioned the addition of percussion to the two-piano original and the most successful touch was the whispers of triangle and cymbal against criss-crossing piano scales of the Poco lento.