Washington Post: Naughton CD Review

By Patrick Rucker, Washington Post

In recent months, there has been a lot of buzz around Christina and Michelle Naughton, 27-year-old twin pianists from Madison, Wis. Such hype tends to make me skeptical. But now that I’ve heard the pair’s new Warner Classics release of music by Olivier Messiaen, J.S. Bach and John Adams, I’m ready to say, emphatically, that they really are that good. Indeed, I’m ready to put them on a level with some of the greatest piano duos of our time: Vronsky and Babin, Luboschutz and Nemenoff, or Argerich and Freire.

The Naughtons surmount the daunting challenges of Messiaen’s seven-movement “Visions de l’Amen,” a 45-minute piece, as though it were music they’ve known and loved their entire lives. In the “Amen of the Consummation,” for instance, they whip up a frenzy of chiming, clanging bells to equal the splendor of the coronation scene of Boris Godunov.

The understated Bach transcription by György Kurtág might seem like a hasty, last-minute insertion. In fact, it is an inspired programming choice. The music is the brief instrumental intro to Cantata 106, “God’s Time Is the Best of All Times.” In this most personal of all music, the Naughtons create a hushed atmosphere of calm, providing an intimate oasis between the two more extravagant works.

While the Messiaen lets us peer through stained glass into the mystical realms of Catholicism in Nazi-occupied Paris and Kurtág filters Bach’s unshakeable Lutheran faith through a 20th-century Hungarian lens, John Adams is the American here and now. The Naughtons take to the vernacular ebullience of “Hallelujah Junction” like ducks to water. The textures shimmer like pure gold in bright light, dancing in every conceivable rhythm. They have to be heard to be believed.

Flaco Zacarias