Two things sum up Jane Langley and Douglas Dickson's recital Sunday afternoon at St. Columba's Church: great playing and lousy pianos. From the opening moments of Mozart's Sonata in D for Two Pianos, it was clear that these young musicians are fine ensemble players with super technique. Entrances were crisp and together (no mean feat with two pianos) and the players never failed to listen sensitively to one another, making for a well-matched and blended sound.
Langley and Dickson made intelligent, sensitive choices about the program as well. Duo piano standards, like the Mozart sonata and Milhaud's "Scaramouche" were offset with works by Barber, a Ravel arrangement of Debussy's Nocturnes, a sarcastic set of Paganini variations by Witold Lutoslawski and a pair of French encores, the first of which, Valse-Musette by Poulenc, was pure charm.
These virtues couldn't completely compensate for the unyielding mediocrity of the instruments used, however. These pianos sounded overly metallic, and their volume range, at least in this small hall, was much too loud. It's a tall order to get first-rate tone from such instruments, particularly for performers in the early parts of their careers; Langley and Dickson can be forgiven for not really succeeding. Even granting this weakness, however, the afternoon remained a pleasant one filled with strong playing from two capable musicians.