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Duo pianists play beautifully at Peabody


The Peabody Conservatory's annual Arthur Friedheim Memorial Concert -- which usually features one of the school's pianistic alumni as soloist -- celebrates one of the greatest of the Liszt pupils. To this listener, however, this annual event has never served to anoint anyone as a Friedheim successor; it has only annoyed him with yet another disappointing Peabody pianist who's managed to win an international competition.

It's a pleasure to report, therefore, that Saturday's Friedheim concert featured genuinely distinguished playing -- playing came not from one pianist but from two, Thomas Hecht and Sandra Shapiro, who performed Mozart's Concerto in E flat (K.365) with the Peabody Symphony Orchestra and its music director, Teri Murai. Hecht and Shapiro, students of Leon Fleisher at Peabody several years ago and now members of the faculty of the Cleveland Institute, now have a deservedly busy career as duo pianists. Their playing was beautiful in tone, fleet in technique, and unflaggingly musical. They also have the ability -- rarer than one might think among duo pianists -- to partner each other.

Really distinguished Mozart playing should almost invariably suggest the human singing voice, and this particular performance of the Mozart "Double Concerto" often sounded like one of the composer's great operatic duets. The interplay of the pianists' phrasing was memorably affecting at all times -- magisterial in the first movement, tender and poignant in the second and irrepressibly sunny in the last. The contribution of conductor and orchestra -- except for some unfortunate quacking by the oboe in the slow movement -- was one of the better accompaniments this listener has heard in Friedberg Hall.

The program began with the American premiere of Robert Hall Lewis' "Images and Dialogues," which the composer, who teaches at Peabody and at Goucher College, wrote for last spring's Columbus' Quincentennial celebration in Genoa. Apart from a lyrical second movement with some inspired melodic writing and a typically brilliant finale, this 20-minute work did not impress with the concise drama that characterizes Hall's work at its best. But if it could be criticized as little more than an arid, if superb, exercise in orchestration, that could also be said about Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathrustra," which concluded the program. Strauss' music was not helped by a performance in which raucous enthusiasm did not compensate for lack of rhythmic and dynamic control.

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