Piano duo's high-adrenaline show



Greg Anderson & Elizabeth Joy Roe, piano

Esplanade Concert Hall/Thursday

The Anderson & Roe Piano Duo are arguably the highest profile piano duo of the current generation.

In addition to clever programming and high-adrenaline performances, Americans Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe, both 34, have also created the sort of social media buzz that any television talent show finalist would yearn for.

Notwithstanding the hype accompanying the concert, their programme was substantial.

The three works in the first half were original compositions for two pianos, although Ferrucio Busoni's Duettino Concertante is based on the Finale of Mozart's Piano Concerto In F Major, K. 459. Busoni cleverly captures the essence of Mozart, but echoes of his more famous Bach transcriptions, with their contrapuntal inventions, are also to be heard.

With barely any cues to each other, they achieved seamless synchronisation, their effortless playing belying the preparation and concentration needed to perform at this level.

A more substantial work, the Suite No. 1 (Fantaisie-Tableaux) For Two Pianos, Op. 5 by Sergei Rachmaninoff followed. Its four movements, inspired by poems, with common threads of melancholy, love and high emotion were a perfect vehicle for the duo to show off the expressive range that can be coaxed from two powerful modern grand pianos.

The duo can never be accused of holding back on dynamics or drama. The erotically charged second movement - The Night... The Love, based on a poem by Lord Byron, left the audience breathless.

With memories of the stunning performance earlier this year of Maurice Ravel's La Valse by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra under Swiss maestro Charles Dutoit still fresh, the duo's performance of the composer's original two piano version provided a striking contrast.

Their fiery, dramatic reading pursued the idea that the music alludes to the tumultuous world events surrounding World War I.

Along the way, though, they lost some of Ravel's irony and poignancy. After all, the conductor himself commented that, "one should only see in La Valse what the music expresses".

The second half was dedicated to arrangements and adaptations of music by the duo. Their take on three pieces by Piazzolla were shoo-ins, perfectly matching their stage personalities.

The arrangements not only fully captured the spirit of the composer, but also, the intertwining of four arms and two bodies on one keyboard provided eye candy that seemed appropriate for a tango.

But not everything this amazing duo touched worked. Their rework of Weiss & Thiele's classic, What A Wonderful World, never quite lived up to the sultry charm of Louis Armstrong's original rendition.

The Three Star Wars Fantasies, adapted from John Williams' film score, however, were on target. Written while they were studying in the Juilliard School, the fantasies are much more than arrangements, but compositions in classical form which borrow themes from Williams' music for the original trilogy.

No programme notes were provided, but the duo's erudite narratives were illuminating. Beyond their slick stagecraft and sizzling chemistry, they did not dumb down the music or compromise on musicianship.

They were showing musicians a way to build 21st-century audiences while remaining true to their classical roots.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2016, with the headline 'Piano duo's high-adrenaline show'. Print Edition | Subscribe