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Programming Games: Pierre-Laurent Aimard

Performing a second evening in a row at La Maison Française, after a solo recital the night before, Pierre-Laurent Aimard was joined by pianist Tamara Stefanovich and two percussionists in an evening of contemporary chamber music. The program was divided into four parts, with works within each performed without interruption.

Kosmos for 2 Pianos by Peter Eötvös was indeed a challenge for the ears. The challenge was in following the complementary material from each pianist and the necessity of the ear to follow double the number of phrases. Programmatically, this mellow opening work was a gentle step toward the complexity that was later to come. Part II involved nine brief, yet eclectic selections from Játékok (Games) by György Kurtág. Paean for Agathe and Gerhard jolted the ear with erratic starts and stops. Later in the set, Stefanovich, on second piano somewhere in the back of the hall, began a descending chromatic scale that blended very well with Aimard’s playing.

Percussionists Daniel Ciampolini and Joseph Gramley opened Part III, an Homage to Ligeti, with the minimalist favorite Clapping Music by Steve Reich. The following two works complemented each other in that the Etude No. 8 (adapted for piano and percussion) of György Ligeti had the relaxed feel of a jazz combo; Conlon Nancarrow's Studies for Player Piano (arranged for two pianos) had an appealing neo-blues ground bass and right hand vamp.

Aimard mentioned to the audience the addition to the program of Poem for Eight Human Metronomes. As a spoof on Ligeti’s Symphonic Poem for 100 Metronomes – a work where 100 metronomes are begun at different speeds and allowed to respectively wind down – this work involved all four musicians at the pianos playing the two notes each at the differing tempi. This was maddeningly well done, and once all voices entered the texture, varying motifs between them could be heard. One by one, the voices dropped out. The final work of Part III featured the virtuosic skills of percussionist Daniel Ciampolini, who improvised along with the Fourth Etude of Ligeti. Earlier, Aimard mentioned that there was a chance they both would leave the score and improvise in this work (they did).

Part IV, the concluding section of the concert, featured the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion by Bartók. This fiendishly difficult three-movement work opens with a statement of BACH with a tail and ends with a tongue-in-cheek V-I cadence. Between those bookends was incredibly intense and virtuosic material. Near the end of the Allegro Molto first movement, a two-note upward motif leapt out of the complex texture, was repeated by all of the musicians, and was finally stated by the timpani. The third movement opens with a colorful texture resembling something of Shostakovich. Stefanovich and Aimard handled the technical demands of this movement brilliantly. Audiences, regardless of repertoire presented, will always respond favorably to virtuosity matched with quality. Never putting on a show, Aimard and friends presented the material with poise, a still confidence, and sincerity.

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