Review: Piano Century – 1913, Aimard, Lecic & Stefanovich, Snape Maltings, June 22nd

There have already been several concerts built around centenaries of various sorts during this exceptional Aldeburgh Festival and in this stunning piano duet recital in the Britten Studio two seminal works from 1913 were performed, along with two more recent, substantial works for the same combination.

Both Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Debussy’s Jeux were written for, and first performed by, Diaghilev’s celebrated Ballet Russes in 1913. The first, famously, produced uproar while the second elicited uncomprehending silence and, with the benefit of hindsight, both outcomes are perhaps explicable. Debussy’s ballet is in many ways the polar opposite to the Rite, subtle, allusive and ephemeral. Yet over the years it has increasingly been recognised as a masterful contribution to the ballet repertoire. Tamara Stefanovich and Nenad Lecic found a wonderful delicacy and fluency, lobbing melodic fragments to and fro as in a gentle game of tennis.

For Pierre Boulez’s Structures, Book 2, Festival Director Pierre-Laurent Aimard replaced Lecic. According to the composer, the second piano provides consistent textures in a middle register, whilst the other provides a series of ‘moments’ of greatly differing textures and registers. This was certainly evident on occasions but there was also much detailed and knotty passage work that was sometimes difficult to follow. The final pages were probably the most arresting – a terrifying low crescendo from Stefanovitch that made one fear both for her and the piano – followed by a calm, rather quizzical ending. Interval drinks were certainly needed after that!

Bernd Alois Zimmerman’s Monologe, derived from his Dialoge for two pianos and orchestra is an interesting work in which the two pianists often appear to go their own way, occasionally quoting from other composers, though not always with recognisable tunes. The pair played with insight and commitment and an enjoyable performance did offer up many arresting passages.

The Rite of Spring is harsh and aggressive, unlike previous ballets and lacking anything resembling traditional ballet tunes. Although the 1913 premiere was of a full orchestral performance, the score first appeared to the ballet company in a piano version. Hearing the work as originally conceived might not have quite equated with being at the Paris premiere but it came a very good second. Stefanovich and Lecic gave a performance that simply exploded with elemental energy and dynamism - this, you felt, was an insight into how the universe began. Both pianists virtually recreated the full orchestral effect, such was their control of texture and timbre, and the pulsating rhythms were thrilling. This was a concert to remember and savour for years to come.

Gareth Jones

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