Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Jean and Kenneth Wentworth

In celebration of Mozart's 250th birthday, pianists Jean and Kenneth Wentworth presented a charming recital of the composer's four-hand keyboard works at the National Academy of Sciences on Sunday afternoon.

Mozart wrote five sonatas for two performers and one keyboard. The husband-and-wife team programmed four of them, preceding each sonata with insightful and humorous remarks that added a most welcome human dimension to the performance.

Seated at the Steinway, they dove into the bright, stately sounds of the Sonata in D, K. 381/123a, and emphasized the first movement's bouncing staccato figures and the third movement's flipping grace notes.

The work sounded as playful and ceremonious as the couple's Sonata in F, K. 497, sounded sophisticated and substantive. From the pathos of its opening bars to the finale's brusque chords, the duo used a broader palette of textures and colors to reflect the harmonic innovations of this later composition.

The sonatas in B-flat, K. 358/186c, and in C, K. 521, that opened the concert did not sound quite as comfortable under the Wentworths' fingers; sixteenth-note passages were uneven and sometimes tripped up the pianists. Tempos, in general, wobbled about, occasionally engaging the two in a mini tug-of-war. But the middle movements of both pieces, particularly the Adagio of K. 358, were full of confidence and easy repose, which allowed the pair's expressive melodies to pour forth.

-- Grace Jean

Anthony and Joseph Paratore

It takes guts to start a duo-piano recital with four-hand reductions of three huge Richard Strauss orchestral works. After all, it's difficult enough for an 80-piece orchestra to pull off "Don Juan," "Till Eulenspiegel" and the waltzes from "Der Rosenkavalier," let alone a pair of pianists. But after more than 30 years of playing together, Anthony and Joseph Paratore have the technique and sixth-sense rapport to make you forget the gargantuan orchestra and to enjoy these scores stripped to their essentials.

The brothers made conspicuous successes of the works at the National Gallery on Sunday. If their playing of the four-hand arrangement of "Don Juan" felt overly metrical and cautious, it was nevertheless loaded with color. The two other pieces (sounding riper and more expansive in arrangements that spread the scores over two pianos) fared better, with the Paratores thundering through Strauss's thickest scoring, bringing out countless details often submerged in full symphonic performances.

If the bathhouse acoustics of the West Garden Court can be vague with one piano, they grow positively murky with two. But Ravel's diaphanous writing in his "Ma Mere l'Oye" emerged with far more clarity than the Strauss, aided by the pianists' supple and sprightly reading. And they made something grand and luscious of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" Suite, maintaining perfect synchronization despite phrasing of notable rhythmic freedom and rhapsodic feeling.

-- Joe Banno

© 2006 The Washington Post Company