Sunday, January 12, 2014
Aristo Piano Duo at the SF Conservatory
San Francisco is ridiculously expensive but there are exceptions, including marvelous free concerts almost every day of the week at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music at Oak and Van Ness (click here for their calendar). Saturday evening we checked out the Aristo Piano Duo of Chia-Lin Yang (in purple) and Vivian Ying Chen (in red) because their program looked so promising.
They began with the 1888 Suite #1 for Two Pianos by Anton Arensky, a minor late 19th century Russian composer who was a disciple of Tchaikowsky and the detested professor of Scriabin. The performance was just about flawless, which was our first clue that the pianists were no longer students. In fact, Yang teaches at the SF Conservatory. They followed with the highlight of the evening, the 1941 Variations on a Theme by Paganini for Two Pianos by Polish wild man Witold Lutoslawski. The famous Paganini tune is put through a grinder for five minutes by Lutoslawski and it's invigorating fun. The Aristos gave it a thrilling performance, equal to Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire in this video clip.
They were not as convincing in Debussy's 1889 Petite Suite for Four Hands, where all the notes were perfect but the famous, piquant melodies didn't come through with much emotional effect. Things picked up again with Rachmaninoff's 1901 Suite #2 for Two Pianos which was expressive while also quite a bit smoother than the rendition by SF Symphony pianist Robin Sutherland and Friends last year.
The full house in the small recital hall seemed to be mostly family and friends, and though they could have been a much worse audience, there was still an overabundance of phone camera action during the performance, not to mention bored children and the loudest cough drop unwrapper I've ever heard during the quiet opening of the Romance movement in the Rachmaninoff.