Four gems from the four-hand two piano repertoire were given a stellar workout at Longy School of Music on November 2. The two excellent pianists, Philip Liston-Kraft and Daniel Weiser, appeared under the aegis of Classicopia, of which Weiser is Artistic Director. “Two Piano Power,” as they titled it, was their second concert in the Boston area in five days. The other, at the Goethe Institute last Friday, featured music for two pianists at one piano.
The biographies of the evening’s pianists are more interesting than most. Weiser, most recently on the piano faculty of Dartmouth College, had finished the first year at Harvard Law School (where he was a classmate of President Obama) when he headed off to Peabody Conservatory and got a Doctorate in Piano. Polymath would be an understatement for describing Kraft, who holds an M.D. degree from Tufts University Medical School, is a graduate of Harvard Law School, and teaches German at Dartmouth in the Accelerated Language Program. His day job is Senior Associate in the Research Ventures and Licensing Office at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is also an accomplished ballroom dancer.
The two pianists met years ago after Weiser saw Liston-Kraft’s note (on the Longy bulletin board) looking for a pianist for a two-piano concert at Harvard Musical Association. Twenty years later they met up again at Dartmouth, where they played together and realized they had found the ideal piano partner.
Tuesday’s concert began with Suite No. 1, Op. 15 by Anton Arensky, known, if at all, for his piano trio. The ebullient Weiser enthusiastically imparted background details of the composers and pieces, in lieu of program notes. An important Russian composition teacher whose his pupils included Rachmaninoff and Scriabin, Arensky nearly met the fate predicted by his own teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov: “He will soon be forgotten.” Not so here. The Suite is a charmer, with a jazzy first movement, a second movement full of glitter and more jazziness, followed by a lovely Polonaise.
Variations on a theme by Beethoven, Op. 35 by Camille Saint-Saëns, is constructed quite differently than Arensky’s Suite, in which the two piano parts can stand alone, (and thus prove satisfying to practice alone). Saint-Saëns, the more accomplished composer, has each pianist answer the other, like matching puzzle pieces. The music’s lines bounce back and forth between the two pianos, entertaining to watch as well as hear. There is a ghoulish funeral march, suitable for the season, and the all-but-obligatory Saint-Saëns fugue.
Franz Liszt’s wildly popular Hungarian Rhapsody received a excellent performance following intermission. Weiser noted, “I’m not sure Liszt ever imagined its comic possibilities,” then recounted some of the more than dozen cartoons which used this piece, ranging from Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, and Woody Woodpecker to the Marx Brothers’ A Day at the Races. What fun! How could Lizst NOT have seen the comic possibilities?
The program ended with Rachmaninoff’s Suite No. 2, Op. 17, a four-movement work recognizable throughout as this composer’s. Written in 1901, after the Second Piano Concerto and Cello Sonata, it also has many moments which sound like Arensky, his teacher. The second (of four) lyrical and romantic movement would melt the heart of any audience, and this one was beguiled. Weiser and Liston-Kraft, a terrific two-piano team, were clearly meant to play together.