Ravel chestnut

A dazzling arrangement of 'Bolero' for two pianos,

Maurice Ravel's Bolero has long been one of the chestnuts of the orchestral repertoire -- a splashy, colorful showpiece. Composed in 1928 for the actress and dancer Ida Rubinstein, Ravel painted his impressions of Spanish dance in bright, gaudy orchestral colors. (Ida Rubinstein was an important cultural figure of the first three decades of the twentieth century. Claude Debussy's The Martyrdom of St Sebastian, Igor Stravinsky's Persephone and Arthur Honneger's Joan of Arc at the Stake were also written for her.) In Bolero a rhythmic theme is repeated (to an incessant drum beat) until the music reaches a grand crescendo and a crashing climax -- an early version of minimalism long before Phillip Glass or Steve Reich. While many conductors play the work for sheer orchestral virtuosity, Ravel's own recording (which he conducts at a daringly slow tempo) emphasizes the music's sensuous Technicolor Latin panorama. In 1930, the composer transcribed the score for two pianos. This version has not received frequent performances. On 24 April 2004 at the Steinway Concert Hall in Coral Gables, Florida, USA, pianists Misha Dacic and Kemal Gekic opened an evening of music for duo-pianos with this dazzling arrangement. (The concert was presented by Patrons of Exceptional Artists.)

Ravel's two piano version of Bolero is wonderfully imaginative. In place of the repetitive percussion, there is a splendid rhythmic underpinning -- achieved with artistic imagination and style. In this pianistic guise, the music's sensual passion comes to the fore. The climax is achieved more naturally than in the orchestral version. Why is this miraculous transcription so rarely played? More than a mere note for note a re-arrangement, this version is a brilliant, vital reinvention of a familiar work. Dacic and Gekic called forth a wellspring of pianistic colors and subtleties from their keyboards. Their performance was filled with tonal beauty, beautifully gagged dynamic gradations, and a deep sense of the music's Franco-Spanish balletic roots. Rather than hard driving, power pounding brilliance, the duo-pianists brought musicality and idiomatic style to a memorable performance.

Another surprise was a transcription by N Pope of the Polovtsian Dances from the opera Prince Igor by Alexander Borodin. This version was replete with orchestral color -- the duo pianos conjuring up silky strings, gossamer woodwinds, and thrusting brass. In the skilled hands of Dacic and Gekic, the mesmeric sound of the music's Orientalism was born anew. The pianos sang the score's gorgeous melodies with the beauty and sensitivity of a great operatic voice. A memorable transcription in a sensitive performance!

A Mozart rarity proved to be a real charmer! Mozart worked on the Larghetto and Allegro in E flat (for piano duo) between 1782 and 1783. Left in incomplete form, the score was completed by Stadler, a composer who Mozart did not admire. The charming melodies and elegant pianistic filigree is pure Mozart. The melodic invention in this score is worthy of Mozart's piano concerti. Duo-pianists Dacic and Gekic gave a sparkling performance of this worthy score. They brought an x-ray-like clarity and stylistic restraint to a beautiful work. They were no less musically persuasive in more familiar musical terrain. Darius Milhaud's Scaramouche Suite was rendered with Gallic wit and insouciance. The concluding Samba throbbed with rhythmic intensity and interpretive individuality. (These artists bring original musical ideas to every score they perform.) In Rachmaninoff's Suite No 1 they brought romantic ardor to the composer's portrait of the wintry Russian night. Their playing had real poignancy and soul in the 'Tears' movement. The church bells of 'Russian Easter' rang out with festive power -- a multicolored celebration of pianistic mastery! The Polka from Shostakovich's Age of Gold ballet was a quirky encore, played with Slavic dash and wit. Throughout their demanding program, the sheer joy that the Dacic-Gekic duo brought to their performances produced radiant, life affirming music making!

As a soloist and teacher, Gekic is a thoughtful and inventive musician. On 20 April 2004 at the Aventura Northern Trust Bank Auditorium, Gekic performed 'The Art of the Transcription' (presented by Patrons of Exceptional Artists and the Aventura, Florida Classical Music Society). That art is alive and well. Gekic's own transcription of Mikhail Glinka's Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture accomplishes the near impossible -- the transfer of the orchestra's thousands of rapid fire notes to a mere two hands and one keyboard. What a brilliant showpiece he has produced! Gekic played this showcase work with glittering pianistic bravado. That he can also play with light as a feather touch and glowing tone was proven by his rendition of Prelude in B Minor by Alexander Siloti -- a beautiful rewrite of a J S Bach organ work. The sheer musical imagination and subtly achieved turns of musical phrasing that Gekic brought to Liszt's Reminiscences de Don Juan turned a keyboard showpiece into a characterful musical portrait. Liszt's keyboard version of Rossini's William Tell Overture allowed Gekic to unleash his full panoply of pianistic fireworks. An exciting performance indeed!

A series of Liszt transcriptions of Schubert lieder found Gekic at his most poetic. Ave Maria seemed to glow and sing on heavenly wings. Serenade had the most beautiful coloristic touches. The dramatic Erlkonig was powerful in its pianistic delineation of horse's hoofs and its sensitive voicing of the vocal line -- a beautiful instrumental evocation of the desperation of the song's characters. As an encore Gekic offered Liszt's arrangement of Rossini's Barcarola -- all musical velvet. Gekic achieved the most delicate of sounds from his instrument. Inspired music making! Both solo and duo-piano concerts revealed that some of music's greatest joys lie in transcriptions -- a tribute by one master to another. Music that comes alive when played with such great keyboard mastery!

Copyright 11 May 2004 Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA

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