Played by four hands or two, piano comes to the fore in Kilkenny

 

THE PIANO was the keyboard of choice over the closing weekend of Kilkenny Arts Festival. And Friday lunchtime brought a rare outing of piano duets played by the Cápová sisters, Rebecca and Kirsten.

I’m a big fan of piano duets, but from the point of view of a player rather than a listener. Forget about the internet, in the days before radio and recordings, it was the piano duet that brought the broadest range of music into the musical home.

Everything from the largest of symphonies and operas to the most intimate of chamber music was arranged for four hands on one keyboard, and even some difficult piano solos could be found in versions where 20 fingers shared the duties originally planned for 10.

In concert, it’s all too easy for duettists to overplay, to tire the ear by indulging too much in the extra volume opened up by the extra player. This was not an issue with the Cápovás, who have the kind of instinctive togetherness and tightness of ensemble that one associates with siblings.

But on Friday they seemed to take rather too much for granted in works by Mozart (the Sonata in D, K381), Debussy (the Epigraphes antiques) and Rachmaninov (two movements from his Suite, Op. 11), as if they were taking a non-interventionist approach with the idea of letting the music speak for itself.

It was in a selection of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, works originally written for piano duet but now best known in their later, orchestral guise, that the music-making kicked fully and gorgeously into life.

It was striking on Friday evening that Alessandro Taverna’s two hands managed to creates a range of textures and colours that the Cápová’s four had only hinted at. Taverna is best known in these islands for his success at the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2009, when he was placed third.

He played Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata with cool, clear lines, took a rather romantic approach two of György Ligeti’s metrically intricate studies ( Fém and L’escalier du diable), was less than comfortable with the suggestiveness of the second book of Debussy’s Images, and imposed such order on Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushkathat the clarity he achieved was ultimately too black and white. He was at his best in an extraordinarily fluid account of Chopin’s Scherzo No. 4, the rapid fingerwork sounding featherlight, the chorale-like melodies projected without any sense of pressure.

The piano was featured as part of an ensemble in the closing concert by the Cashell Trio (Anna Cashell, violin, Ben Cashell, cello, Sophie Cashell, piano), who played works by Lalo (the Trio in C minor, Op. 7), Shostakovich (his youthful First Trio) and Beethoven (the ArchdukeTrio).

The repertoire was nicely varied, but the players’ form was unsettled, and there were an uncomfortable number of technical glitches in a concert which was more suggestive of potential than revealing of really solid achievement.

The big event of the weekend, however, was on Saturday, when the Kilkenny Arts Festival Chorus which was first heard at last year’s festival, made its second outing. It’s a fresh-voiced, enthusiastic choir, and in partnership with the Kilkenny Arts Festival Orchestra under Fergus Sheil, gave a suitably atmospheric account of Vaughan Williams’s luscious Serenade to Musicand showed lively responses to Sheil’s almost racy urgings in the Mozart Requiem. Michael O’Toole was the warm-hearted but not entirely secure guitar soloist in the evening’s single purely instrumental work, Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez.