Sarah Beth Briggs/James Lisney Piano Duo
December 16 2018
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Festive but sophisticated piano duo artistry
After seeing Englebert Humperdinck’s photo in the programme for Sunday morning’s festive piano recital, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if moustache-growing didn’t suddenly appear on the list of new year’s resolutions of several men in the audience. I am, of course, referring to the German opera composer (rather than the English pop singer) who sported magnificent, high-maintenance facial hair of the Inspector Poirot variety. He was even more famous for writing Hansel and Gretel – but there his fame sadly ends.
Sarah Beth Briggs and James Lisney started their most Christmassy of recitals with the Overture to that fairytale opera and their performance offered a sparkling taster for all that was to follow: tuneful music, total musical empathy between the duettists, dazzling technique, magical sound-worlds and a sense of fun communicated not only through torrents of notes but also through friendly, informative chats to the audience, offering some amusing insights into the joys and perils experienced by two people sitting at one piano keyboard.
If Humperdinck is a one-hit-wonder, then composer Hans Gál isn’t even that. Coming from an Austrian Jewish family he didn’t exactly have an easy time in World War 2, but he lived till he was 97 and wrote music which deserves more hearings, at least judging from the Briggs/Lisney duo’s enthusiastic advocacy of Three Marionettes, musical portraits of the three best-known characters of Italian commedia dell’arte tradition: Pantalone, Columbina and Arlecchino, all of which received vivid, sharply etched performances.
Ravel’s magical Mother Goose Suite came next, managing to be both naively innocent and sophisticated at the same time: music written for young children to perform but which needed the Briggs/Lisney brand of artistry for all its fairytale colours to glow properly.
And the same was true of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. Who needs an orchestra when two pianists can conjure up such a wide palette of sounds?
For their encore Sarah and James donned reindeer antlers to perform a highly entertaining, super-virtuoso fantasy based on Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride.
Sarah Beth Briggs/James Lisney Piano Duo in Nottingham’s Sunday Morning Piano Series at the Royal Concert Hall