By Lawrence Budmen

In December duo-pianists Kuni Seo and Shinichiro Kato swept to a first prize victory at the 10th Murray Dranoff International Two Piano Competition with fleet fingered, effervescent performances of rarely heard concertos by Mendelssohn and Martinu. On Sunday the Seo-Kato Duo returned for a wide ranging Festival Miami concert at UM Gusman Concert Hall. 

With a nod to the Mozart year, Seo and Kato commenced with the lovely Andante with Variations, K.501 (for one piano, four hands). Their delicately sculpted playing was marked by aristocratic grace – the very essence of the music. Mozart’s remarkably intense counterpoint was crisply projected. 

Chopin’s only work for two pianos – Rondo, Op.73 – was composed when the composer was only 18 years old; yet the composer’s distinctive voice is clearly heard. The Seo-Kato Duo ignited this salon soufflé with exquisite elegance of line.

Their performance of Schubert’s heavy weight, four hand Variations on an Original Theme in A-flat Major, D.813 was less persuasive. Despite considerable technical authority and some finely gauged shaping, the pianists approached the music with a modernist, agitated quality that was less than Schubertian. This complex score wanted greater delicacy and understatement. 

The duo presented the world premiere of Let’s Play a Duet for Piano by Tomohiro Moriyama. Hand and arm crossings abound in this humorous pianistic exercise. The piece is a satire on the etudes of Ligeti that overstays its welcome. Seo and Kato were clearly up to the task.

Their most impressive offering was the rarely heard two piano Sonata, Op.34b by Johannes Brahms. This duo version of the Piano Quintet in F Minor is a fascinating curio. On two pianos, some of Brahms’s melodic material is barely recognizable. At times almost unplayable, the two piano transcription of the string parts is a daunting task for any performer. Seo and Kato responded with a thunderous display of agility, power, and stamina. Their ferocious version of the Scherzo was particularly striking.

As an encore, the pianists offered a razor sharp version of Witold Lutoslawski’s acerbic, finger breaking Paganini Variations. Technique is clearly this young duo’s strong suit.

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