Masterful Piano Duo — The Naughton Twins at the Düsseldorf Tonhalle

By Regine Müller, Rheinische Post-Kritik. Rheinische Post, 14 March 2014

In the past, piano duos have been a rarity in concert halls, as duets on a keyboard instrument were long perceived as inferior to solo performances. The history of four-handed playing stretches back to the 19th century, when piano duets developed into the most popular form of music-making at home — which gave the piano duet, whether four-handed on one instrument or with four hands on two separate instruments, its long-held reputation as the preserve of amateurs.

Even though the old prejudice has long since been laid to rest, there is as a result a distinct lack of interesting material from that period, while in the 20th century the virtuoso repertoire grew. For a long time, the stylish Labèque sisters had the monopoly on piano duets in concert appearances. Now, however, a pair of American twin sisters is coming to the fore. Their natural youthful charm needs no image consultancy or provocative styling. Christina and Michelle Naughton, just 25 years old,

The 25-year-olds had, until a few years ago, pursued solo careers

had, until a few years ago, pursued solo careers — until they realized it would be worthwhile to develop their sisterly consonance in their musical careers. Since then, they have been performing together. In the Tonhalle, the likeable sisters played an insightful program which cleverly demonstrated their capabilities. The first piece was Mozart’s Variations in G (KV 501), which the Naughtons played with crystal-clear intonation and controlled tone while still consistently sculpting the piercing chromatic harmonies typical of later Mozart pieces. Brahms’ Haydn Variations followed, which the duo played with wonderfully long phrasing, although the performance could have been more orchestral and contrasting in places. There was then a surprise on the program, with William Bolcoms’ “Recuerdos” from 1991, with its references to South American traditions.

After the interval came the real challenge of the evening: Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”, the ballet score from 1913 that caused such controversy. The sisters played Stravinsky’s own arrangement of this epic piece and let rip on the two grand pianos with fiery chordal agglomerations. The relentless maelstrom of increasing tension was superb. The cruel end was almost incidental, even banal, just as Stravinsky wanted it to be. The evening ended with huge applause and gracious encores.