Like a fairytale being with four hands

Donaukurier Review: Ingolstadt, by Jesko Schulze-Reimpell

Twins are a marvel. The similarity of their facial features, movements, speech — they are one of nature’s wonders. But twins are even more astounding when they play the piano. The impression of physical similarity is secondary to the impression made by the unity of their emotions and of their artistic expression.

The twin sisters Christina and Michelle Naughton caused heads to turn simply by their presence at the concert held by the Ingolstadt Music Society at the Ingolstadt Concert Hall. As they began to play, however, the audience was left spellbound.  One would be tempted to write about robotic perfection, but any allusion to machines cannot do them justice; the Naughtons are extremely gifted musicians who play (from memory throughout) with great abandon and incredible expression. This was truly inspired and soulful piano playing, seemingly by a unique, fairytale being with four arms. The twins opened the concert with Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s op. 83a, “Andante and eight variations”. This was an excellent choice, as it showcased the duo’s musical strengths as perhaps no other piece on that evening could have done. Wonderfully the two seamlessly exchanged melodies with intelligent and subtle nuances of phrasing in the exuberant allegro. Every note, every musical thought, was shaped with great charm.

But that is certainly not all, as the 24-year old sisters possess an unusual and unique approach, an intensely personal way of playing the piano. So beguiling, so harmonious to the ear — it is possible that the Music Society’s Steinways have never sounded so beautiful as they did on this memorable evening. The Naughtons seemed to caress rather than strike the black and white keys, as the music flowed warmly and melodiously through the concert hall. As they played, the two demonstrated great skill with dynamic differentiation: no two notes sounded alike, every phrase had its own color. Their sense of melody, however, is what characterizes them both. The structure of the works is not what interests them the most, nor the transparency of the classic layout, it is simply their musicality that is so fascinating. In their drive for musical perfection, the Naughtons sometimes come close to their limits, however; for example, possibly with their second contribution of the evening. Their interpretation of Franz Schubert’s work “Lebensstürme” (Life Storms) was lacking some of the ferocity and the harshness that the title implies. Schubert sets up the clash between brutality and yearning for the idyll with tremendous suspense, but the Naughtons remained too reserved. But the Schubert was the only work of the evening with tiny interpretative limitations. Indeed, they mastered William Bolcom’s “Recuerdos” (1938), a playful work full of allusions to American and Latin American folk music, with breathtaking elegance. Even more impressive was their interpretation of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, K. 448, a concert work full of imitations and reflections of motifs. That piece that could have been written for the Naughton sisters. They passed the musical ball to and fro, answering sumptuous melodies with brazen wit. And, naturally, they played so perfectly that even the trills sparkled in unison.

The concert ended with another virtuosic thriller: the Suite No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninov. The twins (who have superb technique) triumphed here but never with superficial effects; instead, they concentrated on developing the melodies and creating a blissful sound. Brutal chord clashes are not something within their repertoire. There was thunderous applause from the audience for this highlight of the season. The two musicians showed their thanks with two encores, including an action-packed interpretation of the Paganini Variations by Witold Lutoslawski.

Flaco Zacarias