Intelligent programming of piano duets from markedly contrasted pianists at St Andrew’s

St. Andrews lunchtime concert

Piano Duets by Debussy, Brahms and Rachmaninoff

Sunny Cheng and Kris Zuelicke, piano

St. Andrews on the Terrace.,Wellington

Wednesday 23 October 2019, 12:15 pm

Outside it is a bleak, stormy day, but step inside St. Andrews, get warm and listen to some beautiful music and you feel better. Sunny Cheng and Kris Zuelicke are both experienced, skilled pianists, active performers and piano teachers in Wellington. They make a formidable a piano duet team. Their senses of the piano are different; one hears the piano as more of a percussive, rhythmic instrument, while the other as lyrical and melodic. The two pianists complemented each other, in a conversation, a discussion, rather than a unanimous single voice. They presented a carefully constructed programme, four pieces or movements by three very different composers, Debussy, Brahms and Rachmaninoff.

Claude Debussy: Petite Suite for piano four hands, L.65

This is young Debussy, colourful music, perhaps better known in its orchestral version. It is fragile, meditative, other-worldly. This was a technically impressive performance, but some of the fragility, imaginative resonance was missing. The emphasis was on ‘captivating rhythms’ rather than on the ‘lyrical melodies’ alluded to in the programme notes. Still, it was a pleasure to hear these little works, a gentle boat ride, a parade full of colour, a nostalgic echo of the Menuet of an earlier era, and the final movement, the energetic Ballet.

Johannes Brahms: Souvenir de la Russie for piano four hand. Anh IV/6

Brahms was still a teenager, playing the piano in a Hamburg tavern when he was approached by a music publisher to arrange some of the Russian music he might have played or heard for piano duet. These charming little songs are based on Russian and Bohemian folk songs and some considered them to be misattributed to Brahms, but whoever arranged them they are melodious, easy listening. Sunny Cheng and Kris Zuelicke chose four pieces of the collection of six, Der Zweig (the Branch), In der Morgendämmerung wecke sie nicht (Don’t wake her at dawn), Die Nachtingall (The nightingale), and Ein Grosses Dorf liegt auf dem Weg (There is a big village by the road).

These were selected for their connection to the Russian themed duets of Rachmaninoff that followed. The two pianists changed sides, Zuelicke playing treble and Cheng the bass, and the music had a different feel, not just because young Brahms was different from Debussy, but also because the playing had a more mellow quality.

Sergei Rachmaninoff: Four selections from Six Duets, Op.11

Barcarolle is a theme linked to the opening of the concert, Debussy’s En Bateau. Both suggest gliding of oars over water. Scherzo is an energetic movement of highly contrasting sections, Valse suggests the air of a ball a frequent feature of Russian literature, while Slava (Celebration) is based on an old Russian liturgical chant used in the coronation scene in Boris Godunov. This final work was a rollicking conclusion to a fine recital.

This was intelligent programming and the programme notes were informative.

The St. Andrews Wednesday lunch time concerts provide a wonderful opportunity to hear some of the outstanding local talent. It also gives musicians a chance to shine in a public recital. These two pianists deserved to be heard in this delightful enjoyable concert.

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