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Twenty fervid fingers at Vassar

Elegant runs of keys
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sun Feb 28th, 2016

Anna Polansky and Orion Weiss

The repertoire of four-handed piano pieces is, admittedly, limited. In the summer of 1786 Mozart composed at a manic height, writing for anyone who might slip some cash into his jacket. That summer he wrote a four-hand piece. Orion Weiss and wife Anna Polonsky played that unusual Sonata in F major, K. 497, as an opener for their annual Vassar recital at Skinner Hall. The piece was written for Gottfried Jacquin, one of Mozart’s closest friends. Longer than one might expect, and more serious than most four-hand compositions, the arresting slow rhythm at the conclusion inviting the audience to meditate on mortality, which is not the sentiment evoked by most four-hand tour-de-force presentations.

I marveled at such an unexpected turn to what began as a public frivolity and evolved into a private meditative climb, but Mozart remains always adept at such somersaults or unexpected vistas. Yet back in Mozart’s day, the piano, as we now know it, did not exist, and I imagine that the forte piano (with two octaves less than a modern piano) might have sounded even more somber in igs conclusion. Mozart, that master of subversive mystery, was energetically conjured by four mad-cap hands caressing those dancing keys of life and death.

Comic relief appeared with Gabriel Fauré’s Dolly Suite, Op. 56, that ever-charming bagatelle appropriate for a sun-filled spring garden repast with friends, wine, and cavorting cat pets to punctuate amiable conversation.

After ten-minute intermission, they performed Johannes Brahms’ Waltzes, Op. 39. While one could not possibly dance to these waltzes, one admires their vivacious spirit and ultimately absurd ironies with enthusiasm as arms leapt over hands back and forth on the keyboard as the performers were assembling some hectic mad puzzle that might go nowhere, yet it arrives at a satisfactory conclusion. Here the music was more public and serious than Fauré, yet nonetheless as amusing and light-hearted in cerebral flight.

Weiss and Polansky concluded with Felix Mendelssohn’s Andante and Allegro Brillant, Op. 92, which was Felix’s gift to Clara Schumann in March, 1841.The occasion in Leipzig was an orchestra pension fund-raiser; this was the first time Clara and Robert appeared together in performance. That explains why Anna enjoyed the limelight of the most thrilling lightning runs on keys. This two part Andante in singing style rollicks through scherzos with leaping staccato rhythms that the Weiss-Polansky duo performed with such elegant aplomb that they were forced to appear for a second bow. This was an excellent way to anticipate the emotion of early spring.