Bromsgrove Concerts, at The Artrix, Bromsgrove
and Birmingham Chamber Music Society, at Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham
Reviewed by Christopher Morley
It's a striking image, seeing the stage set ready for a two-piano recital: two huge shining monsters locked head-to-head, two fearsome rows of 88 teeth, legs firmly planted.
Yet the medium is one of great empathy and trust, and composers have often confided their most intimate thoughts to it – particularly so when the music was written for themselves to perform with someone special.
Mozart's D major Sonata is such a work, premiered by the composer himself and one of his most gifted young lady pupils. Far more than a mere display-piece, it drew from its creator some of his most profound, sophisticated effects, interchanges rippling deliciously between the pianists.
As they did on Friday, when Simon Crawford-Phillips and Philip Moore delighted a Bromsgrove Concerts audience with an absolutely gorgeous programme.
They actually began at one piano for Schubert's haunting late F minor Fantasia for piano duo, giving it with a sense of numbed desolation which brought it close to the world of its contemporary Winterreise. The tonal colouring which is such a feature of these young men's partnership here made subtle points of the composer's harmonic richness.
At the other end of this rewarding evening their colouring was deployed in almost orchestral terms in a driving, physically punishing account of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring (perhaps those two monsters engaging after all), well-structured and constantly exciting. And it was interesting to note how each pianist seemed to be restricted to one register of his own keyboard.
As a warm-up for this spectacle, the duo entertained us with Lutoslawski's witty Variations on a Theme of Paganini, leaving me wondering whether the influences from Rachmaninov's Paganini Rhapsody, written only a few years earlier, were subconscious acknowledgements or amazing coincidence.
A great couple of days for music-making on the smaller scale concluded on Saturday with Birmingham Chamber Music Society's well-constructed programme from the Richard Weigall Oboe Quartet.
All with past or present CBSO connections, these strong, positive players weld themselves into a performing unit with an integrity which belies the small amount of time they are actually able to spend in preparation.
An oboe-less Beethoven E-flat String Trio was given with great strength and command of delivery, and with Weigall on board Britten's early Phantasy Quartet was given with immense character, followed later by a wonderfully compact account of Mozart's Oboe Quartet in which Weigall's aristocratic tones perfectly complemented this diamond-cut score.
But the evening's highlight was the premiere of Charlotte Bray's Another Conversation, winner of the BCMS/ Drucker's Viennese Patisserie composition prize.
Adroitly written (with the Mozart perhaps as a structural template), the piece makes economical use of attractive ideas, and Bray is a young lady to look out for.