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Thursday, July 24, 2014


(Elna van der Merwe)

Totally enjoyable performance before a big audience. (Review by Michael Green)

Considering that there is a large repertory of four-hand piano music, from composers including Mozart, Schubert, Brahms and Ravel, it is surprising that we do not have more performances of this excellent form of music.

Two accomplished young South African pianists, Liezl-Maret Jacobs and Elna van der Merwe, filled the gap admirably in the latest concert of the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre. Playing on one piano – technically a duet, the term duo being generally used for two pianists at two pianos - they gave a totally enjoyable performance before a big audience.

They opened with Mozart’s Sonata in C major, K.521, a mature and captivating work which Mozart himself described as “rather difficult”, an understatement; it is certainly challenging, and both pianists surmounted its technical problems with a calm and confident keyboard demeanour.

Schubert’s Fantaisie in F minor was the high point of the evening. This is a great work. It is big, dramatic, dynamic, a complete answer to any notion that Schubert was just a purveyor of good tunes. The two pianists showed excellent rapport, balance and clarity in their interpretation of this complex and demanding music.

The second half of the programme was devoted mainly to delightful  lesser-known short pieces from the 19th century by the German composers Friedrich Gernsheim and Philipp Scharwenka, Dvorak and Gabriel Faure, the latter represented by one of the six pieces of  his Dolly Suite, written in the 1890’s for the daughter of his mistress.

Finally we had a resounding arrangement by Henry Levine of George Gershwin’s famous Rhapsody in Blue. This was played with great zest and panache, and the audience gave the performers a standing ovation.

I hope it will not be long before we hear these two pianists again, perhaps in some of the fine four-hand music of the rather neglected Russian composer Anton Arensky.

In writing all this, I must confess to a personal bias on this subject. Long ago, I played a good deal of four-hand piano music with Lara Jones, the gifted Durban pianist who has lived for the past 15 years in Germany, where she is now a professor of music in Cologne, married with a daughter. We played mainly for private audiences and our programmes included the Schubert and Fauré works given at this Friends of Music concert. I hasten to add that I played as a willing amateur, not a professional pianist in the class of these ladies. - Michael Green