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Review: Stravinsky’s ‘Rite’ as a Piano Duo Captivates Carnegie Hall

Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” retains the power to shock in part through its raw, blazingly colorful orchestration. But the piece actually first came into being as a piano duo. Throughout his life, Stravinsky liked to sketch his pieces at the piano. So the piano version of the “Rite” is, in a way, the original.

In 1912, a year before the riot-inducing premiere of the “Rite” by the Ballets Russes in Paris, Stravinsky played the first part of the score for a small group at the home of the French critic Louis Laloy. His partner was Debussy. (Imagine being in attendance.) When they finished, Laloy recalled in his memoirs, everyone was “dumbfounded” and “overwhelmed” by this “hurricane which had come from the depths.”

On Friday at Carnegie Hall, two formidable pianists, Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc-André Hamelin, ended their concert with a fearless, incisive and surprisingly alluring account of this “original” version of the “Rite.” The audience may have been as overwhelmed — in the best way — as that group in 1912. Familiar episodes of this score — the pummeling “Dances of the Young Girls,” the ritualistic “Spring Rounds,” the mysterious introduction to the second part — came through with stunning freshness and clarity. There was a long standing ovation.

They opened with an elegant, crisply articulate performance of Mozart’s Larghetto and Allegro for Two Pianos, a work left in sketchy form by the composer and played here in a completion by the pianist Paul Badura-Skoda. And given the association of Debussy and Stravinsky, it was fascinating to hear Debussy’s “En blanc et noir” for piano duo, played splendidly.

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Beethoven From Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra FEB. 26, 2015

MUSIC REVIEW
Spring for Music at Carnegie Hall MAY 11, 2012
Review: Leif Ove Andsnes Gives a Thoughtful Recital at Carnegie Hall NOV. 17, 2015
This suite is a late Debussy work, composed in 1915 in the aftermath of the “Rite,” and for all its surface beauties, this music is comparably subversive. The first movement courses by in a wash of splashing runs and whirling figurations. The slower middle movement has a defiantly disjointed structure that shifts from funereal dirges to eerie quotations of the chorale “Ein feste Burg.” The final scherzo keeps you guessing: One moment bursts into riotous wildness, the next detours into untethered ruminations.

Though I was eager to hear the “Rite,” I was even more excited to hear Stravinsky’s inexplicably neglected Concerto for Two Pianos (a rare example of a concerto without orchestra). Stravinsky completed it in 1935 to perform with his son Soulima. Though the piece falls into the Neo-Classical phase of the composer’s career, the music resists categorization.

The spiky first movement opens with tart scales and low-register rumblings, through which an insistent theme breaks through. Stravinsky’s audacious inventiveness continues through a deceptively calm Notturno movement, a bracing set of mini-variations, and, to end, an elaborate prelude and fugue laced with biting humor. Mr. Andsnes and Mr. Hamelin gave a commanding performance.

 

Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times
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