Review by Judith Caldwell
A sold-out audience on Friday night was treated to an extraordinary concert at the First Unitarian Church, and presented by the Caskey School of Music. Francois & Katherine Verschaeve generously sponsored Valerie Tryon and Alexei Gulenco in a program of three pieces for two pianos. Tryon was a British prodigy who gave her first full concert at age 14. Later she studied inFrance before coming toCanada in 1971. She was Artist-in-Residence and an Associate Professor at McMaster University until ‘retiring’ to her current concert schedule. Gulenco began his piano studies in Moldova, then the Netherlands and the USA. He came toHamilton in 2008 where he is on the faculty atMcMasterUniversity andWilfredLaurierUniversity. Both of these artists have won numerous prestigious awards.
The three offered pieces were Sonata in D major by Mozart; La valse by Ravel and Symphonic Dances by Rachmaninoff. To perform each piece requires brilliant pianists and Hamilton is extremely fortunate in having two such virtuosi as Tryon & Gulenco.The evening opened with Mozart. The Sonata was written when Mozart was 25 years of age and at the height of his creative powers. It is the only work he ever wrote for two pianos. Its three movements show the deceptively simple Mozart melodies leading into wonderfully complex interweaving that went back and forth between the two pianos. This typical Mozart composition was at the same time so comfortable and familiar but full of surprises. A lovely Sonata brilliantly played.
La Valse was written in 1920 by Maurice Ravel thanks to the insistence of Diaghilev, who wanted the music for the Ballet Russe. The piece was first played by Ravel to Diaghilev and Igor Stravinsky. Stravinsky was silent while Diaghilev said it was a masterpiece; but no ballet composition. The thin-skinned Ravel never did learn to like Diaghilev! The work is wonderful and was by far the favourite of the audience on Friday. The composer said it was supposed to be like clouds drifting across the sky and parting to show waltzers. The original reviewer called it dark and sinister… they were both right. It pays homage to Strauss and sounds like lovely Strauss waltzes seen through the eyes of a much darker post- war survivor. There is nothing naïve or sugar-coated about this work. Its dissonant notes swell into Strauss-like grandeur, move on to a crescendo and collapse into a darker, more world-weary terrain.
After intermission we were treated to Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances which turned out to be his Requeim. The dance rhythms are prominent in the first and third movements which feature deep bass notes followed by tripping trebles, then a pause and once again slowly into the dance. The second movement is a valse triste with short motifs.As an encore in response to a very grateful audience the two soloists played from Ravel’s ‘Mother Goose Suite’.
The reason some pieces are rarely played is that they lack appeal. That was not the case here, the rationale behind these particular pieces lack exposure is that they require two extraordinary talents to carry them off. Hamilton is fortunate indeed.