Lunchtime Live! at Portsmouth Cathedral: Ivory Duo, piano ensemble

Lunchtime Live! 12 January 2023

There was no possibility of taking a walk today, one might have thought, the weather being inclement. The journey across town was uninviting and one for the hardy. But not the foolhardy. If music and art are to be our salvation in these grim times they are to be taken up, appreciated and supported and I’m very glad I didn’t stay in.

Ivory Duo are Greek pianists Panayotis Archontides and Natalie Tsaldarakis and they brought with them an adventurous programme of four-handed piano.

Debussy is at his most Satie in the Six Epigraphes Antiques which are almost disembodied, particularly atmospheric in For a nameless tomb and fittingly descriptive in To thank the morning rain, Debussy being more gracious than me.

Two of the featured composers being in the audience made it an occasion and thanks go to them, and many others, for making contemporary music not as forbidding as it once was, in the Age of Boulez. Hugh Benham’s An Afternoon Interrupted was a premiere. I wished I’d asked him ‘by what’, thinking it might have been that man from Porlock, but it is more likely to have been ideas of dance with its changing rhythms in what might have been waltz time and rumba and it is to be hoped that the Ivories take it to a wider audience from here.

John Elved Lewis’s Cerium featured tumbling scales and more fine empathy between two pianists becoming one unit in which ‘chemistry’ is the first necessity. And then Hugh Shrapnel, also present, was represented by his evocation of Ladywell Station, with its Edwardian or 1890’s country ambience in Greater London, that lilts before becoming busy with traffic and then rests back into the night after the last train leaves. His Square Blues was his ‘attempt’ at a jazz piece and successful in as far as Shostakovich was a jazz composer.

But, having begun piano, the set ended forte with Ravel’s La Valse, providing more evidence for my preference for a number of pieces for piano over orchestration, or maybe it’s just Ravel’s orchestration because my thesis is based on what he did to Mussorgsky but that was by no means damage.

La Valse re-creates the splendour of a Viennese ball, brews up a storm and then synthesizes the two elements with both pianists beginning from the lower half of the keyboard to create a crashing, bravura finish.

And with that Bang, the musical year is well underway in these parts. A faint heart that doesn’t brave the elements isn’t rewarded with moments like that. 

David Green

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