Piano Duo Recital: Lucas & Arthur Jussen
Mozart / Schubert / Ravel / Stravinsky

Klavierissimo Festival 2022
Aula KZO, Wetzikon ZH, 2022-02-26 17h30

0.5-star rating

2022-04-08 — Original posting (concert photos yet to be added)


Lucas & Arthur Jussen (© Marco Borggreve)
Lucas (left) & Arthur (right) Jussen (© Marco Borggreve)

Table of Contents


Introduction

Venue, Date & TimeAula KZO, Wetzikon ZH, 2022-02-24 20:00h
Series / TitleKlavierissimo Festival 2022
OrganizerTop Klassik Zürcher Oberland
Reviews from related eventsReviews from Klavierissimo Festivals: 2018 | 2019 | 2020 (Beethoven) | 2022
Concerts organized by Top Klassik Zürcher Oberland
Concerts in the Aula of the KZO, Wetzikon ZH

The Klavierissimo Festival 2022

The Klavierissimo Festival is an annual event that takes place in the main convention hall of the regional high school (KZO, Kantonsschule Zürcher Oberland) in Wetzikon ZH (close to Zurich). For concert reviews from earlier instances of the Festival see the set of links (first line in the “Reviews from related events” box above). The Festival runs over four days. This year, it happened between 2022-02-23 and 2022-03-26. It featured a series of piano recitals, culminating in several recitals on the last day. I managed to attend five of these recitals:


Lucas and Arthur Jussen @ Klavierissimo 2022, Wetzikon ZH, 2022-02-26
Lucas and Arthur Jussen @ Klavierissimo 2022, Wetzikon ZH, 2022-02-26 (© Rolf Kyburz, all rights reserved)

The Artists

The Dutch pianists Lucas & Arthur Jussen (see also Wikipedia) are siblings who grew up in Hilversum, NL. Children of a musical family (the mother is a flute teacher, the father a timpanist), both have performed in public since early childhood, often as piano duo. Lucas Jussen was born 1993, his brother Arthur in 1996. Their main piano teacher was Jan Wijn (*1934). They also lived and studied with Maria João Pires (*1944). The brothers gained additional experience by playing with the Brazilian pianist Ricardo Castro (*1964), as well as with Lang Lang (*1982).

2010 already, they entered a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon (DG). Starting late 2013, they spent two years studying with Menahem Pressler (*1923) in the US. Lucas continued his studies with Dmitri Bashkirov (1931 – 2021) in Madrid, Arthur with Jan Wijn in Amsterdam.


Program


Setting, etc.

The concert venue, a high school convention hall in the form of a semi-circular theater (in a circular building) can hold audiences of up to around 350 people. The Klavierissimo Festival rarely fills it to more than 30 – 40%. I took a seat in the upper third, in the right-hand side block. The acoustics are perfect in that position, the view excellent, especially for taking photos.

The two instruments were Steinway D-274 concert grands in excellent condition, prepared by Bachmann Pianos, Wetzikon.


Concert & Review

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart c. 1780
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart c. 1780, Johann Nepomuk della Croce

Mozart: Sonata for two pianos in D major, K.448

Composer & Work

In 1781, when he was 25, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) wrote his Sonata for two pianos in D major, K.448. The work is a cornerstone in the small repertoire of literature for two pianos. Mozart wrote this for a concert performance with the Austrian pianist and composer Josepha Barbara Auernhammer (1758 – 1820). Auernhammer premiered the work together with the composer, on 1781-11-23. In the same concert she also joined Mozart for a performance of the Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in E-flat major, K.365 / 316a, a.k.a. Piano Concerto No.10. Mozart originally composed that latter work for a concert performance with his sister Nannerl, i.e., Maria Anna Mozart (1751 – 1829).

The Sonata for two pianos in D major, K.448 today is maybe the most popular work for two pianos of all times? It features three movements, with the following annotations:

  1. Allegro con spirito
  2. Andante
  3. Molto allegro

Configuration: 2 pianos, Lucas Jussen (Pianoforte I / primo), Arthur Jussen (Pianoforte II / secondo)

The Performance

I have watched performances of this work both in parallel (side-by-side) configuration, as well as in an “antiparallel” setting, as here. The latter is technically more demanding, as the artists can’t watch each other’s hands. Instead, they must rely upon visual cues.

I. Allegro con spirito

The first bars already reveal that coordination isn’t an issue with these artists. Naturally, one might say, as they have grown up together. One could of course state the same thing for married couples or artists who have been playing together for many years. However even in comparison with many other, top duos, the Jussen brothers appear to perform at the forefront, internationally.

For example, in the countless instances of alternating semiquaver figures, the transitions between the artists were absolutely seamless. Or, even more critical: in the second half of the exposition, after [D], the primo part has four chords per bar on the beat, while the secondo has “off-beat” (syncopated) chords, shifted by a quaver. These appeared as regular as if they came from the same hand. The dynamics were differentiated, diligent, the acoustic balance flawless, the imitations near-perfect copies. In all this, the performance felt natural, not like sterile perfection. Also, the artists never applied too much power. The modern concert grands alone are more than enough for this music!

“Hairs in the soup”? A really minor point: at the recap section [H], the tempo was suddenly a noticeable tad faster. Why? For the artists, was there a perceptible loss in tempo in the development part? I did not see a reason for this. My bigger regret is that the artists did not repeat the exposition. To me, this is not an option, but an integral part of any movement in sonata form. On the other hand, I regard the repeat signs around the second part (development & recap) as more of a convention. After Mozart, the second half rarely had repeat signs.

II. Andante

The harmony in the imitations (starting at [A]) was simply excellent, the transitions again seamless. The atmosphere so serene, the tempo natural, the agogics subtle. Also here, the repeat marks around the first part were not observed. Was there pressure in the time? Different from the first movement, here, I noted a tendency towards a slight loss in tempo and tension in the second part. Nothing grave, though—but still noticeable.

III. Molto allegro

A fresh, if not challenging tempo, reflecting the talent and the self-confidence of these artists! Despite the sporty pace, I sensed a mellow, natural touch, rounded sound and articulation. Here, the repeat was observed. It’s only short, though, but certainly appropriate for the Rondo theme (refrain).

I absolutely loved Lucas Jussen’s expansion of Mozart’s little cadenzas at the fermatas in the middle of sections [C] and [L]: a perfect reflection of the high musicality, the self-confidence and charisma of the two artists! Not only the coordination and the (common) agogics were excellent, but also the way in which the artists were able to maintain the drive, the momentum across the movement. Finally, I liked the fact that the last three notes were p: most interpretation “blast” these out in the preceding ff.

Rating: ★★★★

Franz Schubert, 1846, 3D Portrait
Franz Schubert, 1846, 3D Portrait

Schubert: Allegro for Piano, 4 Hands in A minor, op.144, D.947, “Lebensstürme

Composer & Work

Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828) wrote the Allegro for Piano, 4 Hands in A minor, op.144, D.947, “Lebensstürme in 1828, the last year of his short life. People speculated whether this was meant to be the opening movement of a sonata for piano, 4 hands. We do know, however, that the title “Lebensstürme” (storms of life) is not Schubert’s, but an addition by the publisher, Anton Diabelli (1781 – 1858). The annotation for the single movement (in classic sonata form) is Allegro ma non troppo.

So far, I have written about a concert performance of Schubert’s “Lebensstürme” once, on the occasion of a festival in Budapest, on 2018-07-27.

Configuration: piano, 4-hands, Arthur Jussen (Primo), Lucas Jussen (Secondo)

The Performance

With the two artists at the same keyboard, the coordination naturally was even more precise. Actually, with the distinct rubato, the strong agogics in this music, close(st) cooperation is a necessity. The performance was virtuosic, expressive, despite the dense, multi-layered textures in Schubert’s music. The artists produced a well-rounded, full soundscape (should I say “Steinway soundscape”?). Their playing seemed absolutely unanimous, not just in the dramatic parts, but also in the lyrical segments. Just as much as the performance felt compelling, I felt equally overwhelmed by Schubert’s composition: a true masterwork! An absolute pity that the composer was not able to complete it to a full sonata!

★★★★½

Maurice Ravel, by Véronique Fournier-Pouyet (source: wikimedia; public domain / CC0)
Maurice Ravel, by Véronique Fournier-Pouyet

Ravel: “La valse”, Poème choréographique, version for two pianos, M.72a

Composer & Work

The composition La Valse”, poème choréographique by Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937) was originally (1919/1920) a piece for orchestra (M.72). The composer initially (1920) arranged it for a single piano player. In this version, it is one of the most demanding pieces in the entire piano literature. For an introduction see my review on Oxana Shevchenko’s private recital on 2016-01-16. Also in 2016, I reviewed another piano recital featuring this work. I have also written about concerts featuring the orchestral version, both in 2018.

The difficulties are mostly in the sheer technical demands. The piano score (a translation from a complex orchestral score) is extremely dense and polyrhythmic, with such exotic demands as maintaining a waltz rhythm while simultaneously playing glissandi (up & down) across the entire keyboard. On top of that, there’s the question of interpretation: it is not sufficient to be technically brilliant, even perfect. Especially in the second half of the piece, the artist is meant to convey the crazy, menacing, scary, overexcited atmosphere of the orchestral version.

Later (1923), Ravel reworked La Valse for piano / four hands (M.72a, performed in this duo recital). This was my first encounter with the version for piano / four hands (or 2 pianos, as in this performance).

Two Hands vs. Four Hands vs. Orchestra?

Some remarks on the composition, as opposed to the interpretation. I’m mostly familiar with the version for piano, 2-hands, and I have also heard the orchestral version in concert (see above). However, this was my first encounter with the version for two pianos. Of all these, the orchestral version naturally is the richest one in colors, and it offers the broadest range in dynamics. The two versions for piano(s) are clearly in a category of their own. How do they compare among themselves?

From my limited experience, the version for piano 2-hands is not only (much) more virtuosic and technically challenging, but also more poignant, clearer in the textures, more direct in the expression. I feel that it is easier for a single artist to “talk” to the listener’s heart, to convey emotions, feelings (Angst!). The version for two pianos offers denser, richer textures—hance may be less transparent. Even tiny, even unnoticeable divergences in the coordination will inevitably soften the articulation in chords. It is much harder for two artists to produce the “steely” highlights that a single pianist can do. Along the same lines, I feel that the 2-piano version slightly softens (“veils”) the emotions.

The Performance

Configuration: 2 pianos, Arthur Jussen (Pianoforte I), Lucas Jussen (Pianoforte II)

There is very little, if anything to criticize in the interpretation by Lucas and Arthur Jussen. Their performance was as convincing, compelling and enthralling as in the Mozart sonata—if not even more.

Along the lines of what I mentioned above, I suspect that the bulk of the following remarks result from a (implicit) comparison with the 2-hand version and may (in parts) not relate directly to the interpretation. To me, the performance was excellent at producing a rich, broad soundscape, but also drama, “effect”. This started with the initial, threatening grumbling, went on to the gradual build-up, to the over-excitement, to the whirling madness of the final turmoil. So, the focus seemed to lie in expression, rather than clarity, pianistic virtuosity and acrobatic artistry. At the same time, expression seemed to prevail over feelings, such as fear and Angst. Despite this: beyond any doubt the performance was virtuosic and technically excellent.

Overall, I see the two-hand and the four-hand versions as complementary—each has its specific fascination and advantages! And I’m grateful for this experience of an excellent performance of the 4-hand version!

★★★★½

Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky, c. 1920–1925
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky, c. 1920–1925

Stravinsky: Le Sacre du Printemps, version for two pianos

Composer & Work

Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971) wrote the ballet music Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) in 1911–1912, for the Paris 1913 season of the ballet company Ballets Russes. The latter was founded by the Russian art critic, patron, and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev (1872 – 1929).

The Ballet

After Firebird (1910) and Petrushka (1911) this was Stravinsky’s third project for the Ballets Russes. Stravinsky described Le Sacre du printemps as “a musical-choreographic work, [representing] pagan Russia (…) unified by a single idea: the mystery and great surge of the creative power of Spring”. For a description of the ballet, its choreography / conception / realization, and the scandal that it caused upon its premiere on 1913-05-29 see Wikipedia. Let me just list the synopsis of the ballet, which is in two parts:

  1. Première partie: L’Adoration de la terre (Adoration of the Earth)
    1. Introduction: Lento — Più mosso
    2. Les Augures printaniers / Danses des adolescentes (Augurs of Spring / Dances of the adolescent girls): Tempo giusto
    3. Jeu du rapt (Ritual of Abduction): Presto
    4. Rondes printanières (Spring Rounds): Tranquillo — Sostenuto e pesante — Vivo — Tranquillo
    5. Jeux des cités rivales (Ritual of the Rival Tribes): Molto allegro
    6. Cortège du sageLe Sage (Procession of the Sage: The Sage)
    7. Adoration de la terre — Danse de la terre (Adoration of the Earth — Dance of the Earth): Prestissimo
  2. Deuxième partie: Le Sacrifice (The Sacrifice)
    1. Introduction: Largo
    2. Cercles mystérieux des adolescentes (Mystic Circles of the Young Girls): Andante con moto — Più mosso — Tempo I
    3. Glorification de l’élue (Glorification of the Chosen One): Vivo
    4. Évocation des ancêtres (Evocation of the Ancestors)
    5. Action rituelle des ancêtres (Ritual Action of the Ancestors): Lento
    6. Danse sacrale — L’Élue (Sacrificial Dance — The Chosen One dances to death): ♪=126 — Sostenuto e maestoso
Concert Performances and Piano Versions

1914 saw the first concert performance of Le Sacre du Printemps, which proved highly successful (the initial scandal was mostly aiming at the choreography, not the music). By early 1912, Stravinsky had completed most of the ballet. At the same time, he prepared a version for piano (two hands), which he most likely used to demonstrate the music to Diaghilev and Pierre Monteux (1875 – 1964), the conductor of the Ballets Russes. That two-hand piano version was subsequently lost.

In parallel, Stravinsky also created a version for piano 4-hands (or two pianos). This became the first published version of Le Sacre du Printemps (1913). In June 1912, the composer performed the first part of this version together with the composer and pianist Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918).

Configuration: 2 pianos, Lucas Jussen (Prima), Arthur Jussen (Seconda)

The Performance

I thoroughly interesting experience, even for those who are familiar with the orchestral version! In the latter, Stravinsky’s progressive (at the time) harmonies, and even the complex rhythmic structure appear “veiled” or “dressed up” in the colorful orchestration. In contrast, here, the listener has the opportunity of a “direct view” onto the “harmonic backbone” of the composition. One could say that even in the absence of the ballet, the orchestral version directly evokes (even creates) atmosphere, colors, pictures, scenes—on stage or in real life.

In the piano “reduction” (that’s what the composer called it!), all this is essentially left to the imagination of the listener. I did try not to use my imagination actively. Rather, I try staying with the spontaneous associations and impressions that I had with this music, this performance.

Lucas and Arthur Jussen @ Klavierissimo 2022, Wetzikon ZH, 2022-02-26
Lucas and Arthur Jussen @ Klavierissimo 2022, Wetzikon ZH, 2022-02-26 (© Rolf Kyburz, all rights reserved)
I/1 L’Adoration de la terreIntroduction

The introduction already showed how close Le Sacre is to the French music of the early 20th century. Maybe with the exception of those chains of dissonant, parallel fourths, the atmosphere strongly reminded me of some piano music by Maurice Ravel (no, not La Valse!). Loneliness, empty scenery, expectations, but also melancholy…

However, that’s mostly just the beginning (and the last 10 bars in the Introduction). In the central part, the music evolves into a complex, multi-layered polyrhythmic texture—while still retaining a rudimentary, rhythmic backbone. Amazing how the artists firmly progressed through this rhythmic maze!

I/2. Les Augures printaniers / Danses des adolescentes

Above a strong, almost brutal, obstinate, often syncopated rhythmic foundation (Arthur Jussen), the Prima part (Lucas Jussen) alternates between a simple melodic pattern, pauses, and intricate rhythmic textures. The middle part is dominated by rapid, fervent tremolo in the Seconda part, while the Prima now carries the rhythmic foundation. It’s all highly energetic.

In this performance, the absence of stage action, of the visual component of a ballet was particularly evident. It wasn’t just the absence of a stage and dancers. The lighting was dimmed (more than prior to the intermission), the artists in their black dresses virtually reduced to their hands and heads, their body language avoided spectacular gestures. With this, the energy, the action seemed literally banned into the listener’s imagination.

I/3. Jeu du rapt

Violent, vehement, enthralling, but also jazzy, if not momentarily playful—and contrasting with fragments of archaic folk melodies that lit up here and there. It was amazing to observe (rather: hear) how the artists managed to maintain the energy, the power, the drive, the tension, the obstinate pace: excellent!

I/4. Rondes printanières

Serenity, the innocence of a children’s song. The subsequent Sostenuto e pesante is a highly imaginative invention—and was a highly imaginative performance! It directly invoked the picture of dances on stage: do we really need a ballet on stage? An orchestra? No! The Vivo add contrasting colors, rhythms, before the final Tranquillo returns to the innocent children’s rhyme.

I/5. Jeux des cités rivales

An enthralling piece of fireworks, often wild, ferocious, but also jazzy (and with intermittent, playful serenity)—ideally suits these artists!

I/6. Cortège du sageLe Sage

The piano(s) as highly expressive percussion instrument—and isn’t there a brass band, too??

I/7. Adoration de la terre — Danse de la terre

The Adoration isn’t more than a short moment of standing still, in reflection—and, of course, full of expectation, tension towards the last part: a jazzy explosion, obstinate, eruptive, wild, ferocious, continually building up towards the abrupt fff closure. Fascinating!

Lucas and Arthur Jussen @ Klavierissimo 2022, Wetzikon ZH, 2022-02-26
Lucas and Arthur Jussen @ Klavierissimo 2022, Wetzikon ZH, 2022-02-26 (© Rolf Kyburz, all rights reserved)
II/1. Le SacrificeIntroduction

Here now, the chained, dissonant chords clearly have an ominous meaning: tension, suspense, menace, Angst, forlornness in the face of an inevitable fate.

II/2. Cercles mystérieux des adolescentes

Beyond mystery: tension, strong, scary suspense—up to the moment of choice. The point where one of the girls is selected for the sacrifice: a frightening, brief eruption, following by pounding heartbeats…

II/3. Glorification de l’élue

The Glorification is a highly ecstatic, ritual dance, heavily rhythmic in alternating, syncopated pattern—wild, enthralling, ferocious: flagellation? Beating? Crowds moving in hypnotic state?

II/4. Évocation des ancêtres

Archaic, strong, wild …

II/5. Action rituelle des ancêtres

A long build-up: the inexorable, inevitable and cruel force of a pagan ritual that draws everything towards a climax: An abyss? Or rather salvation (for those doing the sacrifice)? A moment of suspense, of hypnosis…

II/6. Danse sacrale — L’Élue

It’s excellent how Stravinsky managed to depict the archaic, wildly ritual aspect of the actual sacrifice: a single, long, lasting eruption, violent, ferocious, up to a sfff splash. Then, a ghastly moment of trembling, stare—and the last bat, falling down like the ax of an executioner.

Fascinating music, for sure—and a brilliant, enthralling performance! Even in the piano “reduction”, the second part perfectly demonstrated why 100 years ago, audiences must have been shocked by the archaic forces of this music!

It felt as if the audience was sitting there in shock—it took a long moment of silence before frenetic applauding set in, ending in a long, standing ovation.

Overall Rating: ★★★★½
Lucas and Arthur Jussen @ Klavierissimo 2022, Wetzikon ZH, 2022-02-26
Lucas and Arthur Jussen @ Klavierissimo 2022, Wetzikon ZH, 2022-02-26 (© Rolf Kyburz, all rights reserved)

Johann Sebastian Bach, ca. 1722
Johann Sebastian Bach, ca. 1722

Encore — Bach: Sonatina from the Cantata “Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit“, BWV 106

Composer & Work

In response to the standing ovation, the artists thanked the audience announced an encore as “Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit” by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750). What this meant was the opening movement (Sonatina) from the Cantata “Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (God’s time is the very best time), BWV 106. The funeral cantata is also known as Actus tragicus. It is for four voices and a simple instrumental setting (two alto recorders, two viole da gamba, and basso continuo). There is no manuscript, but it appears as though Bach composed this in 1708, possibly for the funeral of a former mayor of Mühlhausen on 1708-09-16.

Configuration: piano, 4-hands, Lucas Jussen (Primo), Arthur Jussen (Secondo)

The Performance

That encore was an ideal choice here: one of Bach’s most intimate inventions. Intense, soothing, healing after all the violence in the Sacre. As much as we enjoyed all the drive, the suspense, the ecstase in the Sacre—a concert should not end with such drama! Yes, there was the Mozart sonata, and Schubert’s mature work. However, in the aftermath, these are long (almost) forgotten, bleached out in the memory through the excitement, the strong expression of Stravinsky’s ballet.


Conclusions

This year’s Klavierissimo festival brought several highlights, including prominent, established artists, such as Marc-André Hamelin and Konstantin Scherbakov. One largely knew what to expect from these pianists, and they (mostly) fulfilled the high expectations. Here, however, we encountered artists at the beginning of an international career, who yet need to establish a reputation with international audiences. With this, their recital wasn’t just an excellent, fascinating concert experience, but (at least to those who didn’t know their names yet) it also added the excitement, the refreshing experience of a new discovery.

Last, but not least—it may be obvious from the concert photos, but is by no means self-evident: the artists performed the entire program by heart. This alone is highly commendable!


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