It might have been the configuration of the two pianos onstage, opposed yet complementary, curved sound boxes neatly fitted together. Or maybe it was the symmetry of the program, the most substantial works by Mozart and Schubert placed in the very center, with movements from Rachmaninoff’s Fantaisie-Tableaux set evenly on the outskirts. Whatever the case, the dynamics of yin and yang clearly ruled this concert of piano duets.
Then there is the cyclic symmetry of a homecoming: Joanne Pearce Martin served as principal pianist for Camerata Pacifica’s first 10 years and is now the keyboardist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Joanne and her husband, Gavin Martin, a native of Goa, India, have played together since their student days at Curtis Institute in the 1980s and excel at performing these works. On Thursday, their performance was diverse and instructive, and it shone a rare light on an otherwise familiar instrument. Have you noticed a piano rarely cavorts with its own kind? The vast majority of orchestral, chamber, and solo works are, in fact, solo. But the doubling of textures and duplication of registers opens a treasure chest of new possibilities, which the Martins exploited to great effect.
At the core of the program was Franz Schubert’s Fantasie in F Minor, D. 940, for Four Hands. The two shared a bench and one piano for what, in Gavin’s estimation, is one of the greatest works ever written for the instrument. The fertility of Schubert’s imagination is staggering, theme flowing into theme, sublime moments of spaciousness falling into racks of passion. The skipping, youthful “Fêtes” from Nocturnes by Debussy was a fresh contrast, and the descending bell tolls of Rachmaninoff’s “Tears” resonated with profundity in the hall.