by Cecelia Porter
Terrific concert dedicated to composer Franz Liszt on two Brodmann concert grands by Eduard and Johannes Kutrowatz.
The Kudrowatz brothers at work. Photo K. Schrammel
There were no empty seats in the Atrium of the Austrian Embassy when the virtuoso piano duo Johannes and Eduard Kutrowatz presented a concert on 30 September (2011).
The performance centered on works of Franz Liszt (his symphonic poems Tasso and Mazeppa and his Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2), along with Arvo Pärt’s Hymn to a great city (New York), George Gershwin’s Symphonic Variations on I Got Rhythm, and Roland Batik’s New Impressions. On the previous evening, the pianists had offered a thought-provoking lecture on Liszt interwoven with three of his compositions for four hands at one keyboard: the Hungarian Rhapsodies Nos. 2, 12, and 14.
For their lecture, the Kutrowatz brothers alternated in explaining crucial excerpts from Liszt’s life and music, each followed by a Liszt example played on the embassy’s Bösendorfer piano. Some of their commentary emphasized Liszt’s personal (and successful) drive to become the greatest virtuoso pianist of his times and two central influences on his music: his mother’s religious instruction and the critical impact of gypsy music on his compositional style, including the transference of such cimbalom techniques to the keyboard as tremolos, improvisation-filled melodies, and pulsing dance rhythms.
The Kutrowatzes’ brilliantly executed musical examples gave telling illustrations of these underlying elements of Liszt’s style. In the concluding question-andanswer session, audience members responded enthusiastically.
The exciting performance on the second evening brought to light even more intensely Liszt’s musical contributions to his 19th-century world. Perhaps most enlightening was the way the musicians underscored the subtly interweaving facets of both vocal (with recitative and lieder-like passages) and pianistic (percussive possibilities) idioms suffusing the composer’s music.
This was reinforced by the two powerful Joseph Brodmann concert grands loaned to the embassy for the occasion. (Brodmann established his piano shop in 1796, one year before the birth of Franz Schubert.) The pianists could also plumb the Brodmanns’ capacity to realize Liszt’s concept of the “symphonic poem” of later Romanticism: a composition of orchestral scope that evolves by thematic transformation to reach a culminating transfiguration (to use the language of Romanticism).
The Kutrowatzes skillfully preserved the jazz impetus of Gershwin’s fantasy-filled piece while inserting some improvisations of their own. The translucent textures of Arvo Pärt’s minimalist hymn resonated with heavy chordal ostinato figures in the bass range underlying tinkling repeated-note motives above; while moving gradually from piano to forte, the work then receded to a hushed conclusion. The pianists maintained a beautiful sense of nocturnal quietude throughout the Batik. Two encores ended the program, though the audience wanted more.
Audience. Photo: Karl Schrammel
Cecelia Porter is Contributing Classical Music Critic at The Washington Post.