Four hands, one singular sensation at Blair

Thursday evening at the Blair School of Music’s Turner Recital Hall, and an appreciative audience was treated to a type of chamber music that no longer receives the attention that the quality and quantity of its repertoire merits.

amymark1Two long-time members of the piano faculty, Amy Dorfman and Mark Wait (also the dean of the school of music) presented a very enjoyable program of music for piano, four hands. Throughout the concert, Dorfman played the upper part and Wait played the lower. Before there was wide-spread access to recordings, works for four-hand piano were a mainstay of domestic and social music-making, and included not only works originally composed as a piano duo, but also numerous arrangements of symphonic works that allowed music lovers to become familiar with pieces they might only have rare opportunities to hear played by an orchestra.

The program opened with the Grande Sonate in B-flat major, D.617 by a 21 year-old Franz Schubert. For the most part it is a genial work, a springtime balm, with only the occasional stormy passage disturbing its overall sense that, as Robert Browning put it, “All’s right with the world.” This is intimate rather than bravura music and Dorfman and Wait aptly gave a clear, well-balanced performance that gently but persuasively drew the listener into this less familiar corner of Schubert’s world.

Maurice Ravel’s “Ma Mère L’Oye” (Mother Goose) is a set of five pieces completed in 1910 and dedicated to the children of a couple who were good friends of Ravel. While it is good to hear this music performed, and performed well, in its original scoring, it’s difficult, if one knows Ravel’s own brilliant and colorful orchestration of the work, not to be slightly disappointed by how monochromatic the piano sounds in comparison. However, there were still many felicitous moments. The opening piece was lovely in its simplicity and the combination of the “Beauty” and “Beast” themes in the fourth piece, and of the quick and slow themes in the third, was as effective in their way as in the orchestral version. Although much of the work is quiet and subdued, there are times when a bit of flash is required and the two players effortlessly provided this more virtuoso element.

The program closed with five of the twenty-one Hungarian Dances by Johannes Brahms. As Dorfman pointed out in a few casual preceding remarks, they derive from when Brahms would play improvisations on the tunes at parties. While these pieces were ostensibly written for amateurs, they are by no means easy, and this gave Dorfman and Wait many chances to shine. The last two dances (nos. 2 and 6), in particular, were played with a stylistically appropriate sense of abandon, and brought the concert to an end with all in high spirits. It is hoped that Dorfman and Wait, or perhaps other Blair piano faculty, will consider presenting programs of four-hand piano music on a regular basis.

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About Michael Harrison

Michael Harrison lived in Nashville from 2006 to 2009 and has recently returned. He holds degrees in music theory from the University at Albany and choral conducting from the University of Iowa and has done doctoral work in historical performance practice and choral music at Washington University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, respectively. He founded the Palestrina Choir of Washington, D.C. and directed it for twenty years. His choral compositions have been performed by a variety of church and community choirs, including three in Nashville.