Four Steinway concert grands and three toy pianos. This sounds like a recipe for the sublime to the ridiculous.
Well, this concert had it all. Works for four pianos, two pianos, four hands on one piano, two toy pianos one player, two toy pianos two players, one hand on the grand and the other on the you-know-what. Every which way you can think of.
And where on earth could you gather four Steinway concert grands in one place. Who could afford it; those puppies combined cost more than our house. Well, in a piano showroom of Australia’s leading Steinway showrooms of course; Theme and Variations in Willoughby Rd, Willoughby.
How about repertoire? How do you fill a concert with such variety? Well, all the music was contemporary and all the composers were alive and kicking and the lot of them were at the performance. Quite a line-up: Michael Hannan, Diana Blom, Andrián Pertout, Felicity Martin and Paul Smith.
There was some wonderful piano playing too from (in many cases) the composers themselves, but also Jennifer MacRitchie, Pablo Puentes, the impressive Liam Viney and Anna Grinberg duo and the versatile Antonietta Loffredo, who, if this concert is anything to go by, is a bit of a specialist on the toy version.
You might think that the unlikely pairing of the grands with the anything-buts would lead to some quirky confusion, but the seriousness with which the composers approached their business led me to be able to take the toys with considerable musical credibility. An example of this was Loffredo’s performance of Pertout’s Musica Battuta which was inspired by Steve Reich’s Clapping Music (1972). She had one hand on each of 2 different toy pianos, playing the most exacting minimalist music with overlapping and interplaying rhythm patterns of different lengths. A fiendish exercise in concentration while sitting humbly on a 20cm stool.
Some pretty serious subject matter found its way onto the baby. Holding Masks by Smith was a meditation on interviews with survivors of the Sarin gas attacks in Tokyo. Here Smith on the piano played slow and earnest subject matter representing the grief while the toy piano flitted around; life goes on…
Hannan’s Riff Madness III for two toy pianos was a jazzy bit of fun, but none-the-less complex and musically interesting.
Martin’s work Sunshower worked well as an abstract piece of music. I would be inclined to drop the title and description as the images were somewhat of a distraction.
Three works were played by the Viney/Grinberg Duo on two pianos in every case. Hannan’s major 4 movement work Cloudcatcher I inspired by Wollumbin (Mt Warning) was soaring and majestic; a truly imposing work. Freefall, a complex fugue by Blom and the rather furious Clutter by Smith were both played with taught rhythmic and dynamic control. I was very impressed with their energetic ensemble playing. They absolutely brought the music to life.
It was an inspiring concert in an interesting venue and the repertoire was engaging. This was apparently the third such concert; if there are more, I will be there!