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Aldeburgh Festival (9) Debussy, Mozart, Satie and Stravinsky:  Katia Labèque, Marielle Labèque - pianos, Snape Maltings 21.06.2006 (JW)


Debussy: En blanc et noir  (1915)
Sonata for Two pianos in D, K448 (1781)
Trois morceaux en forme de poire (1903) Stravinsky: Concerto for Two Pianos (1932 - 5)


In their return to Aldeburgh after over ten years' absence, the glamorous pianist sisters played a programme predominantly of French and Russian music, demonstrating the breadth of music available at a festival often inaccurately perceived as 'wall to wall Britten.' A late Debussy masterpiece from 1915, a quirky piece by Erik Satie from 12 years earlier and Stravinsky's brilliant Concerto for Two Pianos was brought to a hall full to the brim, despite the midweek slot.


The playing improved steadily as the evening went on, culminating in a stunning performance of Stravinsky's double concerto. The opening work, by Debussy, was of particular interest to those going on to the later performance that evening, in honour of Colin Matthews in this his 60th birthday year since it puts Matthews' music in context, the work of Debussy being a significant interest and influence for him. This particular piece, En blanc et noir, was  a good choice to open with, its shimmering, fluttering texture setting the scene for the evening, and with its clear link to Stravinsky, whose work came later in the concert.


In fact, the playing became more relaxed and confident as the evening went on, with a lovely opening to the Mozart sonata, to which the sisters brought a transporting magical quality, free of all excess weight or portentiousness. The audience greeted this with rousing and warm applause as the first half of the concert drew to a close.


Although often considered a composer of relatively light and entertaining music, the Satie, despite its quirkiness, felt altogether more serious stuff and brought a strong opening to the second half. The pianists sat side by side, rather than opposite each other as had been the case before. The playing of these perhaps surprisingly varied seven vignettes (the number 'three' in the title in fact is misleading) was impossible to fault and I can only describe it as 'altogether excellent'. For me this was perhaps the most enjoyable piece of all in the evening's spectacular repertoire. A quality of 'flourish'  blossomed vigorously, without compromising sensitivity in the more delicate or melancholy sections.


The Stravinsky is a signature piece for the Labèque sisters. It was again very good, although I would suggest perhaps that it (like the evening as a whole) improved as it progressed. The Stravinsky concerto is also the subject of a modernist film by Tal Rosner (available on DVD with the Labèques playing), in which predominantly abstract images accompany the music in a very busy multi-media format. This was available for viewing in the Education Room at Snape Maltings on the day of the concert and the following day.


The audience were clearly enjoying themselves and were thoroughly appreciative of this exciting performance. It is also clear that the acoustic of Snape Maltings suits piano works well,and it was good to see substantial works for that instrument presented in addition to its more frequent role in accompanying the song recitals which are a hallmark of this particular festival.


A slightly abridged recording of this concert is being broadcast on 28 June as Radio Three's lunchtime concert and will be available on the 'Listen Again' facility of the BBC's website for seven days after that.


Julie  Williams




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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)