Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Four Hands Play Schubert and Others

The Latsos Piano Duo: Anna Fedorova-Latso and Georgi Latso. 


The Latsos Piano Duo, “The Interludes”, First Lutheran Church, Torrance

The March “Interludes” recital under the auspices of Classical Crossroads Inc. introduced a husband-and-wife team who have not, I think, appeared previously in the familiar venue of First Lutheran, Torrance. In their compact program, timing out at just an hour, Georgi Latso and Anna Fedorova-Latso managed to include one major masterpiece and several smaller works that called upon their joint skills, plus two pairs of miniatures from the Russian Romantic repertoire that enabled each individually to shine.

Schubert in 1827, by Anton Depauly.
That major work was Schubert’s Fantasia for Piano Four-Hands in F minor, Op. 103, D.940, just one out of the astonishing range of masterpieces that he composed during the last 20 months of his brief life, most of which effortlessly elect themselves to the pantheon of “among the greatest” in their respective genres.

Had the Duo ended their recital with the Fantasia rather than begun with it, I suspect that the opening would have been rather more immaculately together than they achieved starting “cold.” However, it was salutary to hear that opening—perhaps the most unforgettably haunting melody that even Schubert ever began an instrumental work with—at the marked Allegro molto moderato pace and piano dynamic rather than super-slow and super-soft, as it is sometimes played.

Though a continuous whole, the Fantasia is in four clearly delineated sections, and a signal aspect of its mastery is how Schubert makes the connections between them, using rests, sudden contrasts of dynamic, and abrupt key-changes. (An illustrated lecture on the piece by the late Christopher Hogwood on YouTube here is well worth watching.) The Latsos’ execution of these transitions was exemplary, so that their performance gained strength and impetus as it proceeded, culminating in a powerful account of maybe the darkest final cadence Schubert ever wrote, a procession of grinding minor chords that descend like a glacier sliding into a freezing ocean.

Portrait by Josef Novak
of Brahms in 1869.
Though I still think it would have been more appropriate to conclude the recital with Schubert's Fantasia, the Duo had made it their first item, and they followed it in great contrast, with two of Brahms' Hungarian Dances in their original 1869 form for piano duo. For me the rubato in their performance of the Hungarian Dance No. 7 in A major seemed just a little too artful, imposed, as it were, from the outside rather than arising from within the music, but their account of the Hungarian Dance No. 10 in E Major had just the right head-tossing imperiousness. 

Not being any kind of expert on Mendelssohn, let alone specifically his piano music, I was a little puzzled by the program listing for the next item, the Andante and Allegro assai vivace for Piano Four-Hands, Op. 92, as well as finding the shape of the work as a whole somehow unsatisfactory. Research showed that Mendelssohn's Op. 92 was originally published as Allegro brillante—just that bold, vivacious movement alone—but his 1841 original manuscript also includes sketches of an Andante section preceding it, variously described as “incomplete” and “fairly complete.”

Mendelssohn in 1839,
by James Warren Childe.
This different version of the piece was published as recently as 1994, and the melodiously flowing, now-included Andante conjured up, in the Latsos Duo's hands, a perfect picture of Victorian parlor music-making—rich, secure, and confident of the eternal verities. But at only just over two minutes' duration it seemed at once too short for a self-contained entity, but too long to function merely as an introduction to the main Allegro assai vivace. This, incidentally, would surely have sorely taxed any average Victorian parlor duo, but the Latsos made it fly as a delicious fairy dance, like an escapee from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Scriabin in 1903.
The pair of Études, Nos. 4 and 5, that Ms. Fedorova-Latso extracted from Alexander Scriabin’s set of Eight Études Op. 42, composed in 1903, contrasted well, both as following the Mendelssohn and with each other. No. 4 in F-sharp major–Andante wafted dreamily, virtually pulseless and with its chromaticisms only tenuously attached to the nominal home key, while No. 5 in C-sharp minor, sporting the unusual marking Affannato, came across in her hands as darker and more grand than its predecessor, oppressive in feeling rather than the literal translation of “breathless.” 

Rachmaninoff in 1892.
Finally, Rachmaninoff. For his solo contribution to the recital, Mr. Latso chose two perhaps more immediately accessible pieces of Russian Romanticism, the familiar Prelude No. 12 in G-sharp minor from the 1910 Op. 32 set, and Prelude No. 6 in E-flat major from Rachmaninoff's Op. 23 of seven years’ earlier.

After these, Mr. Latso was rejoined by his wife for two selections from the Six Pieces (sometimes labeled Morceaux) for Piano Four-Hands Op. 11, composed at the age of 21 in 1894. The youthful Rachmaninoff marks the opening of No. 2 in D major–Scherzo to be played Allegro con possible, and the Duo were duly, and electrifyingly, fleet, with only a brief Meno mosso interlude punctuating the flying torrent of notes. No. 4 in A major–Valse by contrast was grandly imperial, conjuring visions of stately ballrooms, glittering chandeliers, and swirling satin ballgowns. 


“The Interludes”: First Lutheran Church, Torrance, 3.00pm, Saturday, March 16, 2019.
Photos: The Latsos Piano Duo: Helmut Tremmel, Wikimedia Commons; Schubert: Wikimedia Commons; Brahms: Courtesy Styriarte; Mendelssohn: Wikimedia Commons; Scriabin: Courtesy Radio New Zealand; Rachmaninoff: Pinterest.

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