Elder Hall, Adelaide
June 17, 2018

As the crowning event of the Accompanists’ Festival in Adelaide, Australian pianists Lisa Moore and Sonya Lifschitz presented a duo concert in which artistry met energy, featuring works by Adams, Bresnick, Crismani and, above all, by Bach – the Goldberg Variations in an Emmerson arrangement for piano duo.

The joyous clangour of John Adams’ Hallelujah Junction made for an exhilarating opener. This ‘party piece,’ as Moore affectionately called it in her spoken introduction, plays around with the resonances of setting two pianists to play similar material at a slight delay, demanding virtuosic rhythmic control. Add to this a constant and building momentum, which must never quite feel like it’s ‘arrived’ until the very end, and you have a challenge indeed.

But Moore and Lifschitz tackled all this with consummate skill, from the first bell-like fragments to the intoxicating cross-rhythms in the finale. They were quickly locked into each other rhythmically, landing hair’s-breadth syncopations with pinpoint accuracy. The precision of their detail did not preclude the bigger picture, however. Even through the softer central section, with its triplet undercurrent, there was a subtle drive which linked everything to the thoroughly excitable ending – and there, even the fractured silences were bursting with pent-up kinetic energy.

With Martin Bresnick’s dreamlike Handwork, the two pianists invited their audience into a more muted sound-world, with some intense softs from Moore in particular. A world premiere was the centrepiece of the first half: K**, the winning work of the 2018 Accompanists’ Guild Composition Award, by Adelaide-based composer Dylan Crismani. By a coincidence which no one could have foreseen, it fit into the aesthetics of the existing program beautifully, exploring mesmerising repetition in warmly-tonal eddies of sound.

Starting as a gentle ripple, K** grew and expanded into the hall, requiring the united efforts of both pianists before dwindling to a beautifully-controlled hush which asked – and received – expert matching in dynamic and colouring. In a soundscape awash with pedal, both pianos exchanged droplets of melody and beaded chords, overlapping and layering them, before returning to ripples and to further growth and diminishment.

From the beginning, both pianists were both purposeful and professional in their ensemble, but through the first half they settled into a real groove and the partnership became something organic, almost animate. It was during the Goldberg Variations that this synergy really came into its own, and here the level of integration between Moore and Lifschitz was stellar. The vast, intricate array of melody, harmony, counterpoint and imitation was like some beautiful machine, every cog perfectly joined to its neighbour, every joint oiled, every wheel turning with just the right synchronicity.

In this duo arrangement by Stephen Emmerson, the clarity of the original existed side by side with luxurious textural variants. Sometimes the writing was as straightforward as the solo version, when Moore and Lifschitz simply alternated in playing entire passages, taking over lines and voices from each other so gently that the transfer was entirely seamless. Then again, they often shared the counterpoint, each instrument responding to the other with a ready flow of alert conversation. In contrast with the richly-echoing sonorities of the first half, this was a drier, more brilliant aural experience, with the richness in the sumptuous texturing. Subtleties of sound and shading made for some of the most glorious moments of all – the coy little ending to the riotous 11th variation, or the smooth, crystal limpidity of the 25th, an Adagio.

The Goldbergs become ever more complex as they progress, and so does the arrangement. Undaunted, Moore and Lifschitz took some of the later variations at a dazzling speed, delivered with breathtaking poise and togetherness. The final aria was a marvel of gilded sound in which both pianists shared, overlapping fragments of the famous melody in miniature stretto. As a contemporary reimagination of Bach, especially when played with such convincing passion and commitment, the Goldberg Variations for two pianos opens new avenues for hearing a work which is both so well-known and, in its depth, so little knowable.

On the whole, then, two pianos seem to be a good combination.

Lisa Moore and Sonya Lifschitz will play the same program (minus K**) at the Melbourne Recital Centre on June 19


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