The Phillips Collection presented its first public concert in 1941. On Sunday afternoon, the museum marked the 75th anniversary of its weekly concert series by reproducing the music played at that first concert, a program of pieces for two pianos. The Phillips Camerata, the venue’s resident ensemble, performed some of the pieces in the same format and others in expanded arrangements.
Pianists Audrey Andrist and Lisa Emenheiser played the two-piano pieces, and previous partnerships together, for the 21st Century Consort, gave them a solid ensemble footing. The daunting technical challenges of Saint-Saëns’s “Variations on a Theme of Beethoven, Op. 35,” were not exactly smooth in this performance, but the duo never played it safe, perhaps taking the funeral march variation a tad too fast to savor its harmonic vagaries.
The pianists then switched parts, with Andrist taking first piano on the “Nocturne” from Stravinsky’s “Concerto for Two Pianos,” which had a spunky, ambling feel to it. Brahms’s “St. Antoni Variations,” originally composed in this two-piano version, was transparent and Mendelssohnian in character, missing the meatiness of the piece in some ways.
After intermission came two solo piano concerto movements with the orchestral part arranged for string quintet. The “Romanza” from Chopin’s first piano concerto, with Andrist on the solo, was smarmy and sweet, while Emenheiser excelled technically with the blather-like showpiece of Mendelssohn’s “Rondo Brillant, Op. 29.”
The last piece on the program, Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks” concerto, was just three years old at that Phillips concert in 1941, a reminder of the importance of presenting contemporary music for this series. Conductor Yaniv Dinur led a bubbly performance of the original version for chamber orchestra, with especially fine contributions from bassoonist Sue Heineman and flutist Lisa Cella. Sometimes new pieces become classics.
Correction: Conductor Yaniv Dinur’s name was misspelled in a previous version of this review.