Pianists András Schiff and Peter Serkin are both well-known for their devotion to the fugue and Bach in particular. Both master interpreters of the “Goldberg Variations,” they nonetheless have widely divergent styles—with the Hungarian Schiff noted for his cerebral approach that stresses sound clarity over beauty of tone and American-born Serkin (the son of legendary pianist Rudolf Serkin) acclaimed for his poetic touch. So, it’s of major musical interest to find these two prodigious talents combining their efforts on the new collection of pieces for two pianos, Music for Two Pianos.
It would be too obvious to approach the fugue with Bach, so instead they tackle pieces by Mozart and two twentieth century composers, Max Reger and Ferruccio Busoni. Rather than presenting two like musical minds whose sound blends seamlessly together, Music For Two Pianos is fascinating precisely because of the “debate” between the differing musical approaches that Schiff and Serkin employ. It makes for a wonderful dramatic tension, all the more palatable as a result of the contrapuntal textures of the fugue that weave in and out. This wouldn’t necessarily work with a composer like Beethoven, where dominant melodies are supported by a harmonic structure that rarely intervenes or interferes with the primary melody.
Schiff and Serkin’s playing is particularly inspired on the often-overlooked on Reger’s “Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Beethoven.” Reger composed similar pieces on themes by Bach and Mozart that are played more frequently, so kudos to Schiff and Serkin for resurrecting this mesmerizing piece.
// Notes from the Road
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