Concert Review: Two by four by 88s

Santa Barbara News Press
By Josef Woodard
December 15, 2013

Concert Review: Two by four by 88s

Camerata Pacifica is a mobile and malleable entity, as chamber music series go, and the variety keeps us guessing and awake during its concert season. Last month, the scale narrowed down to a factor of one musician onstage at Hahn Hall, being the accomplished pianist Adam Neiman, taking on an ambitious twofer dose of Beethoven. This month, the piano population doubled, with a special appearance by the longstanding piano duo of Joanne Pearce Martin and Gavin Martin, playing on one and two interwoven grand pianos.

A taste of déjà vu drifted into the room in seeing and hearing Ms. Pearce-Martin, once a Camerata Pacifica regular, before her musical powers won her a spot as keyboardist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. For nearly thirty years, she and Mr. Martin — who married in 1990 — have performed together, going back to their days together at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, and their rapport and understanding of the tandem pianist medium is palpably strong and deep.

On this program, the repertoire moved in varied circles and eras, all expertly realized. A two-piano arrangement, by Edvard Grieg, of the Allegro movement from Mozart’s ever-popular Piano Sonata No. 16 in C, smacked a bit of impertinence, like airbrushing a well-known painting. Two painterly pieces from Rachmaninov’s “Fantasie Tableaux” had an impressionist airiness uncharacteristic of the composer we think we know (these are early works), tying in logically with Debussy’s “Fetes,” from Nocturnes, for two pianos, an orchestral piece beautifully reduced — and in its way, expanded — to a two piano version by Ravel.

Clearly, though — especially in the abridged “lunch” concert of the Camerata Pacifica program — the main attraction and most substantial score was Schubert’s “Fantasie in F Minor,” for piano four hands. In that mode, two pianist share a single piano bench rather than gazing across a dozen or so feet of Steinway real estate on two separate instruments. She took the bass end “left hands” role and he, the higher range, but both were kept busy over the course of the Fantasie’s four movements, alternating between melodic and supportive voices and contrapuntal, conversational cat ‘n’ mouse play.

Written in 1928, the year of his premature death, this powerful work, hallowed as possibly the masterpiece of the four-hand repertoire, summons up due deposits of mostly minor mode gravitas, but also with emotional intensity and vibrancy. It’s as, with this piece of musical life and luminance, the composer were holding on to dear life, while still available.

For an encore with a wink and a groove, the duo shifted into a lighter mode with “Samba a la Turk,” a playful, pliable twist-up of Dave Brubeck-iana.

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