Genova-Dimitrov piano duo strikes sparks at Festival Miami

By Lawrence Budmen

The Genova-Dimitrov piano duo performed Wednesday night at Festival MIami.

The Genova-Dimitrov piano duo performed Wednesday night at Festival Miami.

The duo piano team of Aglika Genova and Liuben Dimitrov belong in the top echelon among the winners of Miami’s Dranoff International Two Piano Competition. Combining flawless technique with inquisitive artistic sensibilities, Genova and Dimitrov are adventurous programmers who comb the two-piano archives for interesting repertoire. For their Festival Miami recital on Wednesday night, the duo avoided standard fare in favor of rarities plus a work commissioned for the Dranoff Competition.

The program at the University of Miami’s Gusman Concert Hall opened with Chopin’s Rondo in C Major, Op. 73, a student work despite its high opus number. Never published in the composer’s lifetime, the piece is Chopin’s only score for two pianos and it is charmer, filled with captivating melodies and typical filigree. For cohesiveness of phrasing and articulation, Genova and Dimitrov are in a class of their own. They brought a sense of lightness and dancing pulse to the score without neglecting its darker underpinnings.

At a Dranoff concert series performance last season, Genova and Dimitrov played Anton Arensky’s delightful Suite No. 2 (Silhouettes). This time they ventured the composer’s considerably more ambitious Suite No. 3, actually a nearly half-hour theme and variations. Best known for his chamber works and the fine Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky, Arensky was a composer of greater invention than he is generally given credit for.

The original theme of his third suite is not particularly distinguished but its transformation is brilliantly realized. A salon waltz was assayed with delicacy of touch. Arensky loaded the march section with fast runs and arpeggiated passages but the duo was equal to the technical curves and challenges. In the brightly accented minuet and an imperial-flavored gavotte, the players raised the music’s salon style to a higher level.  The scherzo could easily have come from one of Tchaikovsky’s orchestral suites, a rapid figure repeated in various guises.

Genova and Dimitrov displayed their vast dynamic palette, bringing verve and devilish zest to this gem which could be a great encore piece. The Polonaise finale again harked back to Tchaikovsky, a feast of pianistic fireworks.

UM Frost School of Music Dean Shelly Berg’s Mary and Martha Meditation was written for the Dranoff competition. A moody chorale opens the score which becomes increasingly jazzy and rhapsodic. As a required competition piece, it is filled with a knuckle-busting storm of repetitive notes. Berg could not have wished for a more dedicated performance, the duo’s technical acumen matched by introspective musicality.

Between the 1930’s and 60’s the team of Vitya  Vronsky and Victor Babin were regarded as titans of the duo piano literature. Babin also made numerous transcriptions. Not many teams have dared play his arrangement of Borodin’s “Polovetsian Dances” from Prince Igor.

The reason becomes obvious upon hearing it. Babin’s whirlwind reinvention of the orchestral score comprises a fusillade of thousands of notes, often at high speeds. It is virtually unplayable but not for Genova and Dimitrov.  They unleashed their full arsenal, from cross-keyboard salvos to the most exquisite tonal coloring.

They were equally persuasive in Liszt’s Reminiscences de Norma, a pyrotechnical fantasy on themes from Bellini’s opera. The duo’s sheer virtuosity turned Liszt’s mix of speed and bombast into unabashed musical fun.

Festival Miami continues with pianist Vadim Kholodenko playing works by Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy and Balakirev 8 p.m. Tuesday at UM Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables. 305-284-4940

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Thu Oct 30, 2014
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