IN AN ERA where age is a dirty word, it is a pleasure to report on an important musical event involving both youth and age.
For in “Four Hands”, the eminent composer, teacher and – let it not be forgotten – pianist, Larry Sitsky, cast his mantle upon one of his most talented students – Adam Cook.
The concert was, as Sitsky remarked, his idea, to be viewed as a kind of farewell present to Cook, who leaves at the end of the year to study in France on the proceeds of his share in the Michael Kieran Harvey scholarship. Mind you, Sitsky added, “for a present, he had to do a lot of work”.
Although his concept may have been what Hamlet called “caviare to the general”, it was a rare delicacy indeed to the many lovers of piano turned up to see what happens when two contrasting artists play as one.
The evening began with Liszt’s devilishly difficult “Les Préludes, after Lamartine”, the first of several “poems for orchestra”, transcribed for two pianos by the composer himself.
In this performance, Cook seemed initially to play a harmonising part to Sitsky, But this was an impression quickly dispersed as the pair moved into “Fantasie für eine Orgelwalze”, KV608, written originally by Mozart for a ‘mechanical clock organ’ but transcribed by Ferruccio Busoni for duo pianos.
There followed Poulenc’s “Sonate pour piano a quatre mains”, FP8. This mischievously conceived piece could easily have been devised by the composer to compute confusion for two pianists sitting at one piano, potentially creating a traffic jam at the keyboard, though one that Sitsky and Cook generally managed to avoid.
It was no surprise to learn that Sitsky had made himself an expert on the music of Busoni, as he explained to those present. The finale was a mighty 35-minute representation of Sitsky’s augmented and edited version for two pianos of Busoni’s “Fantasia Contrappuntistica”.
It was in this large-scale work that the capacities of master and student – Sitsky and Cook – were both stretched and perfectly balanced. It was Cook’s clever idea to project slides taking us through the work, for even though this was a special audience, it made demands on the concentration.
In his prefatory remarks to the final performance, Sitsky suggested that those present would have very few opportunities in their lifetime to hear this work.
That seemed to be an understatement in a rare, fine evening of music.