College friends of mine who were identical twin sisters and both music majors used to claim they could communicate secretly with each other when they performed together. By this they were poking fun at other people’s often rude curiosity about what it was like to be an identical twin. Other twins embrace this phenomenon, like Christina and Michelle Naughton, one of several piano duos formed by identical twins. They gave a recital on the Fortas Chamber Music series at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on Thursday night.
There were hints of the circus act in their performance of music for two pianos. Wearing matching but slightly different black-and-white outfits, they switched sometimes on the primo and secondo parts so it was never clear who was at which piano. The Naughtons are certainly more than just an act, though, with diplomas from both Juilliard and the Curtis Institute and a growing concert schedule. They have a flair for brutal physicality at the keyboard, excelling at the spear-sharp accents in Lutosławski’s explosive “Variations on a Theme of Paganini.” Their reading of Stravinsky’s two-piano arrangement of “The Rite of Spring,” if not exactly subtle, was the most viscerally exciting, savagely percussive and daredevil-fast I have ever heard live.
While they could not really sustain much interest in the slower parts of the Stravinsky, they did better in Debussy’s fascinating “En blanc et noir,” where the middle movement was a slow-burning lament. (This was actually the only piece that featured Christina on first piano.) Only a Brahms selection, “Variations on a Theme of Haydn,” did not suit their temperament, probably because it requires more shading than fireworks. The two sisters did show excellent ensemble awareness, faultlessly navigating the many tempo shifts in the Debussy. Whether it was due to their twin superpowers was anyone’s guess.
Downey is a freelance writer.