One piano, six hands and a programme of highly unfamiliar, surprising music by composers in unorthodox mode

NZ Six Hands Trio: Hamish Robb, Nicole Chao, Beth Chen

Rasim Ramazanov: Salsa Rhythm and Small Rhapsody (trio)
Rachmaninov:  Barcarolle and Scherzo, from Six Morceaux, Op. 11 (Hamish Robb & Beth Chen)
Johann Strauss (arr. Greg Anderson): Blue Danube Fantasy (Nicole Chao & Beth Chen)
Mike Cornick: Bénodet Breeze, from Three Pieces for Six Hands (trio)
Gershwin, arr. Manfred Schmitz, ‘I Got Rhythm’ (trio)
Lidia Kalendareva and Alin Cristian Oprea: Russian Dance for Six Hands (trio)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 8 August , 12:15 pm

Though this three-pianist ensemble has evidently been around for a while, I hadn’t encountered them. All three were masters students together at the New Zealand School of Music at Victoria University nearly 20 years ago.

They operate at one keyboard, in case you have the impression that even the piano duet format is a bit crowded and might be uncomfortable; their places at the keyboard varied with each piece.

Clearly there was neither discomfort nor embarrassment here, for they emanated a feeling of considerable enjoyment.

The first two pieces were by Rasim Ramazanov. I am always interested in composers’ identity but there were no notes and the material that the trio sent to me later did not offer any information about him. Nor did the Internet help initially as there are scores of people with the name, but eventually I spotted a composer-pianist whose name fitted, evidently from Crimea or Ukraine, with a Tartar connection; there were several others of the name in Azerbaijan.

Anyway, the first of his two pieces, Salsa Rhythm, was vigorously rhythmic, jazzy, suggested Gershwin influence and involved ‘prepared piano’ technique, creating dampened string sounds, while the second, Small Rhapsody, was calmer and more melodic, again involving strumming deadened strings inside the piano; there was a third piece, not mentioned in the notes: perhaps one of the two named was in two parts.

Beth Chen and Hamish Robb played two pieces from Rachmaninov’s Six morceaux, Op 11. The Baracrolle sounded Prokofievish rather than Chopinesque while the Scherzo was playful, even frenzied in character with dotted rhythms, sounding very uncharacteristically Rachmaninov. But there was no question about the pianists’ command of the notes and their idiom.

A highly unorthodox yet entertaining fantasy version of The Blue Danube followed, possibly still recognisable by Johann II had he stopped by, as it could, at a pinch, have been a particularly adventurous Lisztian paraphrase.

Mike Cornick’s Bénodet Breeze, from his Three Pieces for Six Hands again had hints of Gershwin or perhaps Poulenc; extremely dense, as if all 30 available fingers were involved at times.

Gershwin himself, arranged by Manfred Schmitz, arrived next, with ‘I got rhythm’, with sequences of heavy, rising chords exaggerating the basic rhythm.

And finally Russian Dance for Six Hands by Lidia Kalendareva and Alin Cristian Oprea. Lidia is from Saint Petersburg and Alin was born in Bucharest; both were educated partly in Germany; both studied at Rostock, a famous university city in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, north-east Germany. They are involved in many styles of music, prominently film, judging by websites. They operate as LA Music. One could well wonder how the composing partnership worked – perhaps each contributed one player’s part while the third was a compromise. This again revealed echoes of Prokofiev, pausing after a while to resume in a more relaxed manner, now dropping hints of Bartók, mining his huge collection of Balkan folk music.

I found this on their website: “Lidia Kalendareva & Alin Cristian Oprea founded LA Music in 2005. They perform and create international award winning custom made music for a variety of different purposes: reaching from music and arrangements for media, movies, games, commercials, to ballet shows and concert music.” Try it out: – quite beguiling.

It was a high energy recital, the main object seeming to be to strip away orthodox expectations of the nature of piano music, and listeners’ prejudices, that might be limited to Chopin and Brahms.

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