Jeffrey Grice : Events : Performances : Reviews : May 6 2000

Duos de piano, May 6 2000

Cairo Opera House Main Hall, 6 May 2000

Duos de piano: Jouer a quatre mains et a deux pianos, Jeffrey Grice and Laurent Cabasso, Cairo Opera House Main Hall, 6 May.

There is nothing that beats a piano, except perhaps, two pianos.  Unfortunately the vast dimensions of the modern concert grand and its special sound-vibes sometimes make two pianos a bit too much.  Even four hands loose on a single instrument can mean the sound becomes unclear, complex at the edges, with everything in danger of evaporating in sheer volume.

With two individual pianos separated by space, things are clearer.  And the two players at this concert, Jeffrey Grice and Laurent Cabasso, were alert to the two piano dangers.  These players on two instruments move in deep waters, churning up big ocean rollers fit to sink a ship.  But they also swim in shall seas, and the sounds they make can be as delicate as a mountain stream.

Their sounds are very beautiful.  Instead of what happens in this sort of music, and aggressive din, we often had clear and intimate sounds.  So from the beginning to the end, it was a joyful concert.  The twin giants sang their duets like vocal melodies instead of a wall of indistinct noise and in the Mozart that began the concert, variations in C major, K501, the two players, really solists, joined together at a single piano for their own pleasure.  They were strong, individual players and made an immediate impression of force and difference of outlook, joining together not just for themselves but for the audience.  Clear was their intense desire to win sympathy for their outlook as players.

It soon became apparent that Grice was histrionic.  His thrust and tempi were dominant, yet Cabasso was an eminence in his own right.  It was interesting how they brought their different tones and programmes into such a sharp, immediate confrontation with the listeners.  The Mozart piece set a pattern of clarity followed throughout the concert.  Like the performance of another recent visitor to Cairo, Victoria Kogan, it seemed each note sang sharp, clear but like crystal belonging to the chain of musical phrase.  Very soon the players had the audience rapt and attentive.

The came Brahms, his variations on a theme of Haydn's.  The players opened this in grandly simple, spacious style, showing two pianos are better then four hands.  The so-loving atmosphere of Brahms was spaced out with cathedral-like dimensions, informal but with immense dignity.

Every part of the music was completely and clearly drawn.  Brahms the philosopher had been etched with diamond-like clarity and speed when the mystery of gently rocking variations was reached.  Everything gradually dissolved into the air, even better than with an orchestra.  It brought tears of joy and hope, like a benediction through the spaces of the opera house.

We had to make obeisance before the king of instruments.  There they were, the two large and massive creatures dissolving themselves into sheer beauty for our benefit, with Grice and Cabasso as the willing vessels of magic.  The king was gone.  No orchestra was needed, nor performing maestro with a stick.  Four hands and two pianos did it all.

Brahms gradually gave way to Ravel's La valsem which is dome leap.  The piano growled its primeval, basso-profundo tones.  Like the Brando film, the music lurched drunkenly around, communicating like decadent jewelry, flashing and fleshy.  Both devine and fear inducing, the waltz became an impulse to religious ecstacy.  Ravel's orchestra needs to be as explicit as the eye of the piano, camera-like, is.  Through a thunderstorm comes gunfire.  La valse makes its ascent into hell, shining brightly but deadly.

After a pause, during which we were able to resume equilibrium after the waltz of the damned, we had more Ravel, this time the five pieces of the Mother Goose Suite.

There is no gunfire in these sounds.  Through veils of delicate piano sound came the Sleeping Beauty, and then the other Beauty, of the Beast, and finally the story ends in the leafy beauties of Fontainbleau.  The players even brought clarity to the fairy-tale piece.  

Last was Rachmaninov, with Suite No 2  op 17.  It is a piece of mystery and sleight of hand, or of four hands, really and two pianos.  It makes no difference, eight hands or two pianos, because if Rachmaninov is in virtuoso mood, it is best to leave to be sure of fresh air.  His demands from the player and instrument are sadistic.

This strange piece was all finger and wrist, lightness and movement, impossible speeds and yards or embroidery.  The players coped with everything.  They never faltered.

There seemed to be military marches, never sweet or sugary, the players moved through labyrinths of strange foliage, jungle-like and never rational sounding.

Hopefully the pianistic colossus would gently unleash one of his hip melodies for the listener.  Finally he does.  It's a strange tune, large-limbed like everything about him - his feet must have been as large as his hands.  Grice and Cabasso went through this melody like high-wire performers at a circus.  One slip, after all, and you're dead.

After an endless fluttering of four hands on two pianos, the butterflies of Rachmaninov all melted away.  The audience was left to shout for more.  The evening had been triumphant for Jeffrey Grice and Laurent Cabasso.  In spite of the fire and thunder of Rachmaninov, in Brahms and Mozart they had even introduced silence.

- David Blake

May 6 2000

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