The third of this season’s Tuesdays @ 8 concerts featuring Music Academy of the West faculty was devoted entirely to music written for two pianos. The fireworks started early, with John Churchwell, Jonathan Kelly, Natasha Kislenko, and Margaret McDonald all sitting down at once to perform the Sonata in One Movement for Two Pianos and Eight Hands in E Minor, JB 1:47 of Bedřich Smetana. The “eight hands” configuration, which tends to be employed in performances of transcribed orchestral music, here got the tribute of an original composition by the Czech composer. When Kislenko and McDonald returned to play Francis Poulenc’s Sonata for Two Pianos, FP 156 a few moments later, they still managed to create plenty of sound, even with half the fingers of the opening number.
The evening’s highlight, and the piece around which the program was organized, came after the intermission, when Jerome Lowenthal and Ursula Oppens took the stage for the Visions de l’Amen, a near-legendary work from French composer Olivier Messiaen. It’s a large-scale composition in seven parts that puts two pianos into a mesmerizing and kaleidoscopic dialogue. Dressed in an eye-catching black silk jacket covered in giant red polka dots, Lowenthal announced the program in a series of brilliantly pointed English translations of Messiaen’s devotional titles (e.g., he rendered the French “Amen du désir” as “the language of carnal desire used to express a paroxysm of thirst for love”). The performance was splendid, and deepened one’s appreciation for the very special achievement of the great Messiaen