The Naughton Sisters, Luminous Pianists

Juan Arturo Brennan, La Jornada, Mexico City, 9 April 2016

Last Sunday, at the Teatro de Bellas Artes, sisters Christina and Michelle Naughton concluded their performance with a lively unprogrammed encore: a four-handed version on piano of Paul Schoenfield's Boogie. Such was their enthusiasm that their performance sounded like there were three pianos and twelve hands, and yet they still maintained melodic clarity and the true harmonic essence of the blues. In concluding their set before this, the Naughton sisters gave a marvelous rendition of the extensive and complex cycle Visions of the Amen, for two pianos, by Olivier Messiaen, expertly transitioning between the devotional, contemplative, impressionist and apocalyptic moods of this piece. The Naughton sisters proved their mature wealth of knowledge in the numerous passages in which Messiaen suggestively blends ambiguous harmonic contexts with gentle major triads. Throughout the seven movements of Visions of the Amen, Christina and Michelle Naughton dedicated the time and space required to achieve good synergy between the sections, as well as between the chapters that make up each section.

Prior to this, the Naughton sisters gave a passionate and authoritative rendition of the complex work Hallelujah Junction, for two pianos, by John Adams. This highlighted their shared discipline with regard to both tempo and rhythm, which enabled them to master Adams' difficult polyrhythmic work. In fact, the vibrant interpretation of Hallelujah Junction by the sisters was similar to Visions of the Amen in that it required meticulous concentration from both to overcome the asynchrony between the various accents and rhythmic patterns. Before Adams, the Naughton sisters gave a four-handed rendition of a wonderful piece by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Andante and Variations, K.501. In addition to their incredible technique and enviable duetting abilities, it was perhaps in this work where the sisters truly showcased their ability to adapt to pieces from various different origins and eras thanks to their regular study and practice with these stylistic differences in mind. In this Mozart piece, the textual clarity achieved by the Naughton sisters was not at odds with the high-quality sound projection and the well-balanced dynamic changes. And, as it should be in this type of music, which requires room to breathe and reflect, the pedal was used sparingly if at all — there being no need for spurious resonance, as the natural resonance expertly captured by Mozart shines through. What was particularly appealing about the Naughton sisters' Mozart performance was the dramatic but not at all mannerist transition to the minor key, and then the return to the brilliant G major in which most of the variations are set.

This excellent recital by Christina and Michelle Naughton, in addition to being expertly played, was very well structured, beginning with Felix Mendelssohn's Andante e Allegro Brillante for piano four-hands. Once again, fastidious attention was paid by the pianists to the style and density of the musical textures, highlighting the perennial smile of the spoilt child of fortune, Felix Mendelssohn. The sisters passed the themes of the work between each other with perfection and seamless execution. Another notable aspect of the Andante e Allegro Brillante performance was the great subtlety applied to the fine dynamic detail of the piece, and effective use of suspension as suggested by Mendelssohn before the end, giving rise to a joyous episode of musical winks between these two bright, young and outstanding pianists. Let's hope that they will return soon with one of our orchestras. Given what we heard in this incredible recital, we must assume that Christina and Michelle Naughton would give spectacular performances of concertos by Mendelssohn, Mozart, Bruch, Poulenc, Bartók and other composers who created pieces for two pianos with accompaniment.


Flaco Zacarias