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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

Velut Luna

Johann Christoph Friedrich BACH (1732-1795)
Sonata for Four Hands in A major [11:53]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Ball-Scenen, Op. 109 [27:44]
Philip MARTIN (b. 1947)
Electric Prisms [9:28]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Holberg Suite, Op. 40 (Air & Rigaudon) [9:09]
Oda Voltersvik, Giulio Potenza (piano)
rec. Studio Zanta, Camponogara, Italy, 3 & 20 November 2015, 18 January 2016
Booklet notes in Italian and English
VELUT LUNA CVLD276 [58:14]

The world seems to be awash with concert pianists these days. In such a crowded field, there are career options other than soloist, especially if, frankly, you haven’t succeeded beyond the second or third division. Reading the bios of Oda Voltersvik and Giulio Potenza, their individual progress to date has been solid rather than stellar, but as a duo will there be a synergy and chemistry that launches them into the higher orbits?

Performing as Volt & Potenza, this is their debut CD and I have to say it has a lot going for it. To begin with, it’s a beautifully selected and balanced programme around the theme of dance—hence the Greek title ‘Khoreia’—including a work newly commissioned from Irish composer Philip Martin. The latter impressed me greatly, and if the calibre of musicians can be judged by the quality of the music written for them, there’s a bright future for this duo. My only programme quibble is there’s not enough of it—at just over 58 minutes, the whole of the Holberg Suite, or another work, could easily have been accommodated.

All pieces in this recital are for piano four hands, and from viewing the online promos, Voltersik mans the treble, with Potenza downstream. Immediately the J. C. F. Bach Sonata began, I felt cosseted and highly entertained in their hands, not only with playing of the surest unison and harmony, but with the palpable joy and fun of their music-making. The Bach is delightfully buoyant but not over-inflected, in keeping with its simpler keyboard origins. That makes for a more telling transition to the greater sophistication of Robert Schumann’s Ball-Scenen, which comes off splendidly. With its variety of dance movements, each a challenge of characterisation, the command of tempo and dynamics by Volt & Potenza is as close as you’d wish to believe that one mind is controlling four hands. And again, there is an infectious brio and joie de vivre.

Philip Martin’s Electric Prisms is described in the liner notes as “inspired by a painting with the same name by Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979), capturing the new modern world and technology in Paris at the beginning of the 20th Century”. Alas, no image is provided with the notes for reference, but Martin’s piece is in several short sections, presumably depicting different elements or impressions of the painting. Following along the CD’s dance theme, it has a strong rhythmic base, motoric at the beginning, then more subtle and varied as the piece progresses, crowned by chromatic and, at times, coruscating figurations. With drive and panache, Volt & Potenza convey the work most convincingly, its quiet ending providing an effective segue to the ‘Air’ from Grieg’s Holberg Suite which, together with the ‘Rigaudon’, nicely round out this exceptional, albeit too brief, recording debut.

Sonically, Velut Luna provide a piano image that is fairly immediate and full, within a warm studio ambience. The wide stereo stage effectively places the keyboard in front of the listener, tonally descending from left to right. Interestingly, two instruments were used, a Steinway D274 for the Bach and Schumann, and a Yamaha CFIII for the Martin and Grieg. I could detect no significant differences in either piano timbre or recorded sound to warrant any comparison. Perhaps to impress the impressionable, the back insert sports a ‘24-bit 96kHz’ logo—it is, of course, a standard 16/44 CD, and perfectly fine for that.

Volt & Potenza’s most recent concert was at the Faversham Assembly Room. Without meaning any disrespect to that venue or its locality, I would hope and expect to see perhaps a Wigmore Hall engagement in this duo’s future outings. On the strength of their delightful debut CD, they deserve every success.

Des Hutchinson



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