The Malta Independent 17 July 2024, Wednesday
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Four pianists, one concert

Marie Benoît Sunday, 23 June 2024, 08:40 Last update: about 19 days ago

Different musical backgrounds came together in an original programme at the Robert Samut Hall at the beginning of this month. Each pianist gets their own space, and in addition, unusual pairs at the piano find each other again and again: At times the piano is played four-handed at others six and once eight.   Sometimes the pianists take turns during the piece and leave the piano bench free for the next one. A concert experience full of surprises and musical colours.

The four performers

I invited each pianist to comment on this particular concert

Maria Elena Farrugia

"I always wanted to perform alongside a pianist I always looked up to. Well, lo and behold, it turned into three of them in this concert. To top it off, the context of it fits right up my street as my favourite type of music making is when I'm doing it with others who share the same passion. Also, I am grateful for having colleagues who not only are patient and put up with my occasional buffoonery but seem to enjoy it and let me get away with it even during a performance. "

Gabi Sultana

"Preparing for this piano concert for 4 pianists was an adventure filled with laughter, camaraderie, and a bit of organized chaos. Together, we tackled a programme that is as diverse as it is challenging. Cramming three pairs of hands (and four pairs for our encore!) on one piano was a tight squeeze, which made for some memorable, entertaining moments .... with priceless commentary. It was an absolute honour to share the stage with these exceptional ladies and I hope (and can't wait!) to repeat this programme soon again."

Joanne Camilleri

"We wanted to present something different and fun for a Sunday morning concert. What started off as an experiment, became a wonderful opportunity to work with another three brilliant pianists who are also colleagues and good friends of mine, making it a truly beautiful experience. It was fantastic making music together - navigating the music and understanding how to best make use of the keyboard space, trying to figure out how to place the music stools in order to fit in all together on one piano in the best way possible. Rehearsals were never so much fun. I hope that we will have more opportunities to work together in this way."

Caroline Calleja:

"Performing and sharing the keyboard with these three wonderful pianists was absolutely amazing. Finding adequate (and somewhat comfortable) space for all 6 or 8 hands and so many fingers was not always plain sailing, although it was well worth the effort in exchange for so many laughs we had during rehearsals. Despite each of us taking a specific section of the keyboard the music still called for intricate hand crossings. Therefore, accurate timing and precise synchronization were essential to avoid collisions. The mutual understanding and interpretation of the music and the collaborative synergy certainly made this concert a fun and memorable one."

The Programme

Gabriel Faure is considered one of France's most influential and important composers. His Dolly Suite consists of six short pieces written to mark the birthdays and other events in the life of the daughter of the composer's mistress, Emma Bardac  known by the family as Dolly).

Maria Elena Farrugia and Caroline Calleja launched the concert with these minatures, often conveying surprising weight of feeling as well as charm. The best known piece is the Berceuse.

Each one of the six pieces has a delightul name such as Mi-a-ou, Tendresse, Les Pas espagnole.

This was followed by 4 of Brahms Hungarian Dances which were originally written for four hands. These were played by Joanne Camilleri and Caroline Muscat. Here Brahms was inspired by Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies They are among Brahms most popular works and proved to be most profitable. We all know and love his No 5 which is, I believe, the most popular.

He certainly progressed from the time he was playing piano at brothels around Hamburg to earn his living. The pianists played them with verve and energy to a very enthusiastic audience.

Next it was Gyorgy Ligeti's music. I had never heard of him let alone ever heard his music so I am no dedicated Ligetian. I also tend to be suspicious of contemporary music. So I took a deep breath.

I know that Gaby Sultana is a contemporary music specialist with an excellent reputation. She was joined by Joanne Camilleri, another gifted pianist and they performed Five pieces for piano by Ligeti. The pieces went down well. I am almost converted.

Next was Maarten Smit and his Petite Suite for piano, for six hands. Made up of four movements:Tango, Melody, Waltz, Carnival there was loads of variation in this piece and the pianists, squashed as they were (Caroline, Gaby and Maria Elena ) put their heart and soul into it. I went home and I have played it on you tube again and again. Here is one modern composer I have time for. (As if he cares).

Another modern composer on the programme, this time the Greek Boukouvalas and his Fantasy on a theme by Steve Reich. Who on earth was Steve Reich or the composer for that matter? Not one, unknown but two this time. Ah Steve Reich according to the programme notes which I have just found is 'a great American composer'. Again six hands, this time those of Caroline, Gaby an Maria Elena. The beginning was repetitive and reminded me of the music of that excellent film The End of the Affair. But it finally evolves into the kind of music I like.

Then an arrangement of the famous theme (and much loved) from Paganini's  Second violin concerto and yet another version of La Campanella. Paganini, through his unrivalled brilliance influenced the leading Romantic composers of the 19th century including Liszt who too, composed his famous Campanella as we all know. Again three at the piano (Joanna, Caroline and Maria Elena) who playing joyfully to a delighted audience.

The last piece on this lovely programme was Mike Cornick's three pieces:Anyone for tennis? Baroque to the Blues and Bénodet Breeze. Do people named Mike compose anything worth hearing? Well, this one did, jazzy and pleasant music.

And finally all pianists sit together for an encore: Galop, played in the speed of a gallop.

I want to express my gratitude to these four performers. There is much talent but also much hard work behind a concert of this nature. Playing alone is hard enough but four of them with different personalities and characters must be much harder. There was a sense of camaraderie on that stage.

I hope they will repeat the same performance in the winter months, in a much bigger theatre. I wish them well.


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