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Review: Husband-and-wife piano duo master challenging program

Review: Husband-and-wife piano duo master challenging program

Review: The husband-and wife piano duo of Andrey Ponochevny and Elena Zyl gave a very pleasing recit

The husband-and wife piano duo of Andrey Ponochevny and Elena Zyl gave a very pleasing recital Sunday afternoon at The College of Saint Rose’s Massry Center for the Arts as part of the Renaissance Musical Arts series.

The pianists, who come from Belarus and are now based in Dallas, are solid performers. Ponochevny, who has been much awarded, including winning the bronze medal at the 2002 International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition, has an active international career. Zyl specializes as an accompanist with appearances throughout Europe, the Far East and the United States. With such backgrounds, they were evenly matched in a challenging program, which was divided between works for four hands (at the same piano) and for two pianos.

They began with Mozart’s Sonata in C Major K.521 for Four Hands, which Mozart wrote for himself and his sister Nannerl when they toured. With Ponochevny on the treble part and Zyl on the bass, both showed off facile techniques in energetic, lively tempos. Everything meshed from the balances, dynamic levels, articulations and just the right amount of lift to the phrases.

Brahms’ original version of his Five Hungarian Dances for Four Hands sparkled. The pianists had switched duties but all facets of their playing continued to match. Tempos moved right along. Now and then they would glance at each other, but generally, their eyes focused on the music. The dances were charming with many teasing moments.

Shostakovich’s Concertino for Two Pianos, Op. 94, which he wrote for himself and his son Maxim who was a student at the Moscow Conservatory, was anything but easy. Maxim must have been quite the piano player. Although the one movement work began with a dark but stately introduction, it quickly evolved to a festive tempo with all of Shostakovich’s signature harmonies. The pianists easily caught the work’s Russian flavor with clean techniques and spare pedaling.

The entire second half was devoted to Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances for Two Pianos, Op. 45. Usually this is heard in its orchestral version, but the composer wrote the two-piano version as an alternate. Hearing it with two pianos allowed the small crowd to appreciate the rich harmonies and the skillful interweaving of all the many lines. The first movement had a lot of notes spread out over the two parts, which the duo played effortlessly. The wonderful second movement, which is an enigmatic, darkly sinuous and taunting waltz, was given plenty of pace. And the finale was speedy, frothy and bright.

After a standing ovation, the pianists played a transcription of Manuel de Falla’s “Spanish Dance” with lots of flavor, style and several glissandos.

This concert is the first in what is a spate of piano concerts, a rarity for the Capital Region. On Saturday, Saint Rose professor Young Kim brings several of her students for an evening of piano four and six hands; and on March 24, Orion Weiss and his wife, Anna Polansky, will perform at Union College’s Memorial Chapel.

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