By Márcio Bezerra
From the Mozarts to the Mendelssohns, from the Kontarskys to the Labèques, there have been many famous sibling piano duos throughout music history. The reigning fraternal team of the moment, Dutch brothers Lucas and Arthur Jussen, were in recital Feb. 6 at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach.
Despite their somewhat cutesy and over-choreographed stage presence, the duo’s commanding musical and technical abilities shone through their challenging program.
They started with an early masterpiece for two pianos, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Sonata in D major (K. 448). Written in 1781, the work features Mozart’s inextinguishable gift for melodic invention. The addition of a second piano allowed him to add all kinds of imaginative contrapuntal tricks such as canons, echoes — all interpolated with orchestra-like tutti.
The Jussen Brothers tackled the work with brisk tempos, contagious rhythmic drive, and melodic clarity, making this their best performance of a two-piano work at the Gubelmann Auditorium.
Not that they were less successful in the other two selections: La Valse, by Maurice Ravel, and the Suite No. 2 for Two Pianos (Op. 17), by Sergei Rachmaninoff. The Ravel, in particular, had moments of bombastic adrenaline highs, exciting even the most subdued patron. But the quality of Mozart’s writing found an ideal match in their youthful exuberance.
If the two-piano medium allows for greater brilliance and showmanship, the heart of the piano ensemble repertoire resides in the four-hands, one-piano tradition. Started with Mozart (who wrote the earliest masterworks in the genre), the duet’s string quartet texture requires a much more refined writing, in addition to putting the performers in a tighter space, having to negotiate the sharing of the medium range of the instrument.
Lucas and Arthur Jussen undertook the duets’ demands with satisfying balance, technical prowess, and exquisite color palette.
Their performance of Claude Debussy’s Six Epigraphes Antiques was the high point of the program. Written in 1914 and based on the pseudo-ancient lesbian poems “found” by their author, the erotic writer Pierre Louÿs, their languid character can sound somewhat monotonous in the wrong hands. Not with Lucas and Arthur, who brought sparkling moments even when having to deal with shades of pianissimo. Their performance of number five, “Pour l’égyptienne,” was truly memorable, as time seemed to stand still.
Their reading of Schubert’s last work, the Rondo in A major (D. 951), was equally satisfying. A balanced approach to voicing gave clarity to the main motives and they did not go shy on the more dramatic moments.
As stated in a previous review, The Society of the Four Arts has the potential of becoming the premier venue for piano recitals in Palm Beach. One only wishes that they would drop the listing of performance time on each piece they program. After all, one goes there to forget about time, not to worry about it.