Born three-and-a-half years apart, the 20-something Jussen brothers — Lucas and Arthur — became a piano duo before they were pubescent. They are appealing looking young men who’ve crafted an affable, thoughtful approach to their careers as duo pianists and beyond. Their apparent joy at performing together radiated from their Concertgebouw recital, recorded before a socially distanced audience of 350 two weeks prior to this airing on the 16th at the Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival — A Summer Tradition Transformed [available online for a week]. They totally mesmerized this reviewer, I admit it.
Well-produced videos of concerts and recitals offer certain advantages over large venue in-person settings, especially direct and intimate connections to the performers. The lush scene felt almost magical, and the duo pianists, radiantly focused. I could have watched in fancy concert garb, comfortable rags befitting the Cambridge summer evening, or nothing at all. Nobody would have glared at me had I coughed or sneezed, and, in the comfort of my den, with no mask required for social distancing, I could have chomped all night on Crackerjacks.
Most importantly, I could practically don the pianists’ personæ and pretend I was playing—so intimate were the closeups of every finger and the brothers’ expressive faces. I felt (and imagine any of us who play or have played the piano with focus would have felt) delighted to hear pieces I have tried to master performed with such thoughtful intention.
At the start of the video, host Karen Allen interviewed the brothers Jussen, who expressed regret at not being able to appear in person in the Berkshires, but noted they were “incredibly happy that we can do this.”
Mozart’s 1772 sonata K.381 in D Major for piano four-hands provides rollicking fun for anyone who plays the piano. It is easy enough, and worth revisiting at home. The Jussen brothers avoided the clunkiness of the repeated chords and scales in the first Allegro, elucidating phrasing and themes. The luscious Andante, with its melody moving from primo to secondo wafted lyrically. The Allegro Molto finale, which often comes off as a horserace, sounded thoughtful and merry. The guys delivered the upbeat K.381 as if by a thoughtful giant with four hands.
Schubert’s Fantasie in F Minor, D.940 is “one of our favorite pieces of all time,” they told us. The movements flow continuously: Allegro molto moderato, Largo, Allegro Vivace, to Allegro molto moderato. The duo combined mystery with movement flawlessly in the first allegro. The duo enunciated each repeated theme subtly and carefully, and always emphasizing subtle variations.
In the brief but touching Mother Goose (Ma Mère l’Oye) Suite, Ravel, who is said to have enchanted the children he knew (and wrote this for two of them), translates fairytales into sound, whether in the orchestral version or for 4-hand piano. The pianists’ brought reflective, wistful, and quiet to the diatonic Pavane. Their particularly brilliantly evoked Tom Thumb casting bird crumbs to mark his path. Laideronette, Empress of the Pagodas magically came across magical singleness of purpose. Beauty and the Beast conversed with heavenly hope and the Fairy Garden ended with sweet, calm phrasing.
In the pre-concert interview, Arthur Jussen opined that Van…, a composition by Hanna Kulenty (b. 1961) who makes her home in both Warsaw and Arnhem, the Netherlands, might be taken as a metaphor for the pandemic. Kulenty conceived it as a huge machine going wild, breaking down, inducing a pause but then ending in a placid, tuneful reverie. While she wrote it in 2014 for the Jussens, they did not get to premiere it, though they have offered it many times since. Their Concertgebouw rendering was sublime. I have listened to the piece several times—and it is more compelling each time and, indeed, can be taken as a comment on our disruptive times.
These young men understand the challenges of concert careers well. Not taking anything for granted, they have been circumspect in their planning, publicly noting that it is important for performers to avoid just performing but rather to look at all the things they might want to do. While each likes appearing as a soloist, Lucas and Arthur both also clearly love collaborating, and together, they muster an unusual degree of control and musical intuition. Neville Marriner said of them, “You realise that this is not usual. This is not just two good pianists playing together. They sense each other’s most small, individual little bit of interpretation.” It does not hurt their popularity that they look like rock stars and clearly enjoy the swagger of well-earned stardom.