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FRIENDS OF MUSIC: PIANO DUET (article first published : 2006-03-30)

This recital, at the Durban Jewish Centre, of music for four hands at one piano provided an evening of rare distinction and pleasure, an occasion for the connoisseur.

Aglika Genova (she) and Liuben Dimitrov (he) were born in Bulgaria and are of Greek origin. They met about ten years ago when they were both due to compete in a solo competition and found that there was only one practice room available. It had two pianos, however, and they warmed up by playing a Chopin etude together. “We thought we had sprouted wings”, Aglika Genova says today.

It was a fortunate experiment. They have developed into a duo partnership of the first rank, playing either on two instruments or on one. This Durban recital was at one piano. There is a considerable repertory of four-handed music at one keyboard, and these two pianists delivered a programme of works that were probably unknown to most of the audience and were of unflagging interest and artistic value.

The most serious was the opening item, Brahms’s Variations on a Theme by Schumann, Op. 23, a kind of memorial to a composer whom Brahms greatly admired. Schumann wrote the original theme, and some variations (in 1854), at the time of his voluntary departure for the mental home where he died two years later. It is Schumann’s last work and, although it has been severely criticised by some commentators, I find it almost unbearably poignant. Brahms’s version is a splendid set of ten variations which give the duo pianists plenty of opportunity to display their skills and insights. Genova and Dimitrov gave a dramatic account of this music and earned the first of several ovations during the evening.

Rachmaninov’s Six Pieces, Op. 11 were in generally lighter vein and included a glittering waltz and an imposing Russian theme rather reminiscent of the Volga Boatmen song.

A work hitherto unknown to me was a delightful set of twelve pieces by Georges Bizet (1939-1875), the composer of Carmen. The set is called Jeux d’Enfants, Children’s Games. The music is an outstanding example of French charm, imagination and ingenuity. You wouldn’t have thought it possible to describe Soap Bubbles or Leapfrog in music, but Bizet has done it. Again, a lovely performance from the pianists.

The programme ended with Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole, which is very well known in its orchestral guise but was apparently written in the first place for duo pianists. The music is brilliant, picturesque and evocative, and the pianists brought it off with great panache.

In response to prolonged applause there was an encore, Shostakovich’s polka from his Jazz Suite No. 1.

The Prelude Performers of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, were Thuli Zama (singer) and Ian Francis (pianist), both third year B.Mus students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. They provided some jazz and pop music. A slightly bemused audience discovered how far the study of music has progressed at the university since the dreary old days when students had to devote their time to Bach and Mozart and Beethoven. - Michael Green




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