The husband-and-wife team of pianists Orion Weiss and Anna Polonsky debuted Sunday afternoon at Union College’s Memorial Chapel as part of the 41st International Festival of Chamber Music.
The duo was very simpatico in a program that involved the lyricism of Schubert and Fauré in the first half and Stravinsky’s rarely heard four-hand version of his “Le Sacre du Printemps” of 1913. Weiss said the two have been playing duets for as long as they’ve been together and like to concertize as such wherever they can. That explains why they both played with a gentle, fluid touch, interwove their lines so seamlessly, and nuanced their phrases with such similar well-arched musicality.
All the works were for four hands. They began with two that Schubert wrote in 1828, his final year of life, and both were published after his death. The Allegro in A minor, “Lebensstürme,” reflected, perhaps, some of the anguish Schubert was then suffering both personally and physically in that loud chords alternated with a pretty flowing melody. With Polonsky in the treble and Weiss on bass, they set good pacing and balance, used a light pedal and a crystalline technique. Dynamics here and in most of the pieces on the first half were in the soft to middle ranges. Rarely did they play loudly.
Schubert’s Rondo in A Major was sunnier with lighter textures, an inspired melody, and parts that spatially were more open and flowing. The duo was unforced. Their attitude was one of great respect for the music.
Fauré’s “Dolly Suite” (1893-96) was equally lyrical with six short movements that ranged from playful or languidly flowing to a bittersweet lullaby or a Spanish-flavored festival. The duo played everything with great finesse, balance and knew when to bring out the primary themes.
Stravinsky’s piano version of “Le Sacre du Printemps” was published the same year the work premiered in 1913, although the orchestral score wasn’t published until 1921. Even in this rendition, the exoticness of the score, the different kinds of sound, the unexpectedness of the rhythms and harmonies are still 100 years later like a blast of fresh air. It also required two virtuosic pianists.
The duo impressed in their note-perfect performance, especially since it was the first time in public with the piece. They did very well in those areas that demanded mystery or technical brilliance. But their tone colors were too consistent overall. It was the same gentle touch. The music demanded some stridency, edge, even harshness to mix things up. Considering that they were playing on the edge of their seats, they needed to apply the same energy to create a fire to electrify the crowd and deepen the palette.
After a standing ovation, the pianists played Schumann’s melancholy “Abendlied.”
The next concert in the series is April 7 with cellist Sophie Shao and friends.