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Review: Pascal and Ami Roge at the Barber Institute, Birmingham University

There's something very special about the piano duet as a performing medium; all that proximity, enforced intimacy, subtle telepathy.

Pascal and Ami Roge at the Barber Institute
*****

There's something very special about the piano duet as a performing medium; all that proximity, enforced intimacy, subtle telepathy. Many student friendships are forged in this way, as happened to me in this very building half a century ago, and as happened again elsewhere with a new friend only last year.

So it was quite appropriate for Pascal and Ami Roge to take the stage smilingly, almost shyly hand-in-hand, and to remain thus throughout this enchanting evening -- except, of course, when actually playing.

It might have seemed an intrusion to listen in on their communings, but in fact the Roges projected their playing with such a feeling of inclusiveness that we almost felt as though we were guests in their domestic salon.

Faure's lovely Dolly Suite was given with tenderness, wit, and, at times, with a childlike solemn sense of occasion. Schubert's F minor Fantasia had the duo phrasing and breathing almost like a four-handed entity undertaking this trudging winter journey, sometimes gathering pace, sometimes holding back, and with countermelodies freshly minted.

Between these two duet staples Pascal Roge took the piano for himself in a selection of Debussy Preludes, the apparently wispy impressionism tightly controlled by means of pedalling and dynamics, pieces such as La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin emerging clear-cut away from the context of veiled whole-tones, and La Cathedrale Engloutie telling a real story as the sunken edifice arises from the waves and descends again.

Mozart's busy Sonata in C brought totally different demands in terms of texture and figuration from the partners. Its performance sparkled with delights, and Ami Roge revealed a wonderfully rich tenor register.

Until now she had always been seconda, but for the four Dvorak Slavonic Dances she came out briefly on top (they reverted to their usual deployment halfway through). These were joyous, infectious , and again, given with a sense of fresh discovery.

The encore, the Feria finale from Ravel's Rapsodie Espagnole, took us into a totally different sound-world, visceral, swirling with colour, sleazily louche and foot-stampingly exuberant.

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