The Gulencos & an evening of classical music at Mac 5

Review by Judith Caldwell

Larisa and Alexei Gulenco presented a demanding program for two pianos, in this case two Steinway’s, in the new L. R. Wilson Concert Hall at McMaster University.  The 350 seat Hall is a welcome addition to the Hamilton entertainment scene.  The acoustics are excellent delivering a wonderful clarity of sound; plus the size is perfect for concerts and recitals.
The Gulenkos are a husband and wife team who each have impressive credentials.  Alexei received his original musical training in Russia where he won the Rachmaninoff competition, then the Jose Iturbi competition in Spain and the Liszt in Italy.

the Gulenco’s – post concert

  Larisa hails from Moldova and she is a prize winner in competitions in Moldova, Romania and Italy.  They have both performed around the world and currently teach in Hamilton.  

The program began with Variations on a Theme of Beethoven’s by Camille Saint-Saëns.  There are eight variations, plus a fugue, presto and coda.  It began as a very pretty melody which moved into a more dramatic insistent beat and ended with an echoing melody which was quite effective.  A very interesting mix of both Beethoven and Saint-Saëns.  A short lovely melody, ‘Las ninas de Santa Fe’ by Argentinian composer Carlos Guastavino was the second piece.   The first half of the program wrapped up with Saint-Saëns season-themed ‘Danse macabre’.  This is based on the 41 drawings called ‘The Dance of Death’ by the German painter Hans Holbein the younger, which depict death as a skeleton calling for the dead to rise from their graves and dance until dawn on Halloween.  Originally written for voice and piano, Saint-Saëns also arranged it for two pianos.  This very familiar piece which should have been a show stopper to wrap the first half, was actually very uneven with a couple of missed timings from which the performers recovered well.
After intermission the duo tackled Suite for 2 pianos No. 1, Fantaisie-tableaux by Rachmaninoff.  Both performers seemed to be more relaxed and they performed this difficult piece flawlessly.  It began with a lovely, lyrical Barcarolle; moved on to a passionate, romantic La nuit…l’amour; then to a pensive and sombre Les larmes; and finally to the dramatic, noisy, insistent Paques as a finale.  The advertised program ended with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas.  Originally written for full orchestra, Dukas also arranged it for two pianos.  This was a wonderful arrangement and most of the audience were probably picturing Mickey Mouse in his role as the apprentice from Fantasia.   The Gulencos really seemed to enjoy this piece as much as the audience who gave them a standing ovation as the last note faded.   As an encore the soloists tossed off Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp minor which was an amazing, wonderful tour de force with which to end the concert.


  1. I feel the review failed to capture the passion that we as an audience experienced from this highly skilled duo.

    The sentence that refers to the Danse Macabre as being very uneven and which should have been a show stopper is incorrect. In fact, it was a show stopper. Even though there was a minor glitch, it went well and accurately portrayed the dark and scary character of the piece.

    I agree with the comments on the Dukas piece especially on the ovation as the last note faded.

    The audience was truly captivated by this exciting concert.

  2. I was disappointed with this review.

    No comment was made about the skilled interplay between the pianists in this demanding two – piano concert.

    During the second half, they did indeed perform the Rachmaninov Suite flawlessly in a relaxed beautiful fashion. The word “tackled” is inappropriate.

    Twice in the review the Gulencos’ name was misspelled, exhibiting a lack of attention to detail, portraying disrespect to the artists.

    For the encore, from the stage, Larisa said “this piece needs no introduction”. They played the well-known Rachmaninov C# Minor Prelude. The reviewer referred to this piece as Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1.

  3. On Saturday, October 20, 2018 I attended the concert performed by Larisa and Alexei Gulenco at the L. R. Wilson Concert Hall at McMaster University.

    Piano Duo as a rare event in Hamilton and I consider this one as a highlight in our local music community. The Gulenco Piano Duo delivered a great sense of style, emotionally from very soft almost poignant to very passionate.

    They skillfully projected the difference in music characters in SAINT-SAËNS Variations on a theme by Beethoven, opus 35.

    “Las ninas de Santa Fe’ by Argentinian composer Carlos Guastavino was a delight with such variety of phrasing sensitivity and was astoundingly vivid and appreciated by the audience.

    Both, Suite for 2 pianos No. 1, Fantaisie-tableaux and Prelude in c# minor by Rachmaninoff were just a delight.

    The musicians’ caliber was up to the very musical and technically demanding program performed with ease in very convincing musical interpretation.

    Music lovers had real enjoyment of astounding expression of lyrical interpretation in music and showed it by a standing ovation at the end of the concert

    We are indebted to musicians working hard to deliver musical beauty to an audience and must support them as much as it possible

    Special note: I would like to express my gratitude to Elizabeth Spratt and François Verschaeve who sponsored that event for their hard work.

    Leon Karan
    B. Mus., MFA., RMT
    McMaster University

  4. I was in attendance at this wonderful performance.

    The encore piece was the famous Prelude in C-sharp minor by Rachmaninoff (not Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 as stated in the review.)

    Also, the musicians’ surname is spelled incorrectly in some places. (Gulenko with a “k” is spelled wrong. Gulenco with a “c” is correct.”)

    Perhaps the reviewer could correct these errors since this is an on-line publication. It would no doubt be appreciated by the musicians.

    Greg Crone

  5. Note is made that the Gulencos’ name misspelling has been corrected. The encore that had been named by the reviewer as Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto #1, has been corrected to Rachmaninov’s c# minor Prelude.

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