Exhilarating piano duet delight at St Andrew’s lunchtime concert

The Blue Danube and Duo Enharmonics

Duo Enharmonics – Nicole Chao and Beth Chen (Piano music for 4 hands)

St. Andrews on the Terrace

Wednesday 3 April, 12:15 pm

Some years ago both Nicole Chao and Beth Chen studied with Thomas Hecht at the New Zealand School of Music. They formed a piano duo partnership and have been close friends ever since. They went overseas, studied further, came back, and carried on playing together.

Four hands playing on one keyboard is a very difficult form of chamber music. There is no contrast, no different tone colour or timbre to separate or contrast the voices. The two pianists have to think and play like one. Such unanimity was evident in this concert. It started with Debussy’s charming, well known Petite Suite, though better known in its orchestral version. It is a playful piece and was played with lovely sonority and clear phrasing.

Then came the huge, taxing, four-hand version of the first movement of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. I imagined the two friends, very accomplished pianists, getting together and saying ‘Let’s have some fun’. ‘What can we play to test the limits of the piano?’ and they opted for The Rite of Spring. The one piano, four hands, has to capture the vast kaleidoscopic range of a large orchestra, with its full tonal and colour range. The music moves from powerful, loud, fast passages to contrasting gentle, lyric melodies. Nicole Chao and Beth Chen played with forceful energy, and captured the magic of the ballet.

This challenging work left the audience with a sense of exhilaration. But that was not all. The concert was capped with Greg Anderson’s arrangement of the Blue Danube Waltz. Forget a gentle cruise down the Danube, or twirling to the tune of a gentle waltz in some crystal illuminated ballroom. Greg Anderson completely deconstructed the well known work of Johann Strauss. He embraced Heavy Metal, popular American music, and a whole range of contemporary sounds with rhythmic echos of old Vienna.

It was great fun. Let’s have more of this, let’s hear this talented pair again.


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