daon duo

The Daon Duo, Hyejin Joo and Heejin An, performed a "piano fourhands" concert at the PianoForte Studios Saturday, July 23. 

Folks who enjoy piano recitals know that there is always an extra dollop of excitement when the program is for “piano fourhands.” Two musicians at one piano means twice as many fingers on the keyboard, twice as many feet to depress the pedals, and half as much real estate on the bench.

The Daon Duo, made up of pianists Heejin An and Hyejin Joo, offered a sparkling afternoon of piano music this past Saturday at PianoForte Studios in the South Loop. “Daon” is a Korean word which the program tells us means, “all good things are coming along the way” — a charming approach to a concert of piano music.

An and Joo combine to create a formidable team. Their technical proficiency is stunning and their ability to move from intense power to delicate sweetness is notable.

The Daon Duo had several virtuosic showpieces on their program,  rendered with explosive and dramatic flair. Franz Liszt himself arranged his Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 for four hands (about a quarter-century after he first composed the work for a single pianist) and his reworking of the piece is marvelous, keeping all the excitement of the original. An and Joo dispensed the serious melancholy, as well as the manic playfulness and joy that bursts from the score, with aplomb.

There was dazzling speed from An, playing primo (the pianist sitting to the right playing the higher side of the piano) while Joo’s secondo (playing the lower keys) had clarity and punch. Mood shifts were skillfully stitched together. All the virtuosic elements were performed with ease, and the piano became a many-colored instrument, at one point sounding like a harp and at another like the hazy memory of a music box. The joyful elements, including smudged-like keystrokes, were performed with lightheartedness and  rapid passages were imbued with a jolly spunkiness.

Schubert’s “Lebensstürme” (“storms of life”) was written in 1828, the last year of his life. It was finally published in 1840 by Anton Diabelli, who also gave it the title it bears today; Schubert had simply called it Allegro in A minor. The opening chords performed by An and Joo were thunderous, introducing us to storms from the very outset. The full volume, and the instant electricity of four hands pounding out perfectly timed staccato explosions, grabbed your attention. If you were sitting on the keyboard side of the hall, you could view not only all the hands and fingers moving up and down the keyboard, but also a mirror-like impression of the pianists on the highly polished black wood of the Fazioli piano they played on. They  gave the music crisp, clear, consistent sound, even when phrases were begun by one player and completed by the other.

After the intermission, the players changed sides of the bench so that Joo was Primo. Mendelssohn’s Andante and Allegro Brilliante was dedicated to Clara Schumann — the concert pianist and wife of composer Robert Schumann — and the composer performed the premiere of the work with her in Leipzig in 1841. The Daon Duo had a singing tone for the opening Andante, and no shortage of energy for the Allegro, including fleet and sleek rapid passages and vigorous interplay of the top and bottom portions of the piano. 

Both women were outfitted in stylish jumpsuits, and anyone who wondered why they hadn’t selected skirts or dresses understood the fashion choice during the Mendelssohn, as the composer’s work had both pianists ranging far along the keyboard at times, requiring one partner to lean almost precariously over the far side of her bench. Yet the tight use of seating did not muzzle the sound, as it spilled exuberantly throughout the hall. 

Beethoven’s Overture from “Egmont” was full of surprises, as the arrangement by Behn did a remarkable job of reducing an orchestral score to one for piano. The elasticity of phrasing was lovely and the contrasts were clearly drawn. The big ending was fun and satisfying. 

The concert closed with an arrangement of “Libertango” by Astor Piazzolla, the 20th century composer who created the “nuevo tango” by infusing jazz and classical music ideas into Argentine dance music. Throughout the recital, this duo showed admirable unison of purpose and they kept perfect time between them in even the most rapid sections of music. By this point in the recital  these points had been made, and yet Piazzolla brought out even faster tempos and  they kept together flawlessly. They had dance-like flair and they made the jazz elements shine.

The two sections of the duo’s concert opened with Bach transcriptions for piano. “Schafe können sicher weiden” and “Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit,” were played well but for those who prefer to hear Bach on period instruments it will have sounded a tad wan. Their encore was the Christian hymn “This is My Father’s World” a simple melody which was both pretty and sentimental. It featured graceful arpeggios and warm, embracing harmonies.

The audience loved the performance and there were gorgeous flowers presented to the pianists that were not half as attractive as the sunny smiles the two young women shared with their applauding listeners. It was a marvelous way to spend a Saturday afternoon in Chicago.

The next event at PianoForte Studios (1335 S. Michigan Ave.) is Jul. 28 at 7 p.m. when “The Women Pioneers of Cinema: Alice Guy-Blache, Mabel Normand and Mary Elle” will be presented. For information on other upcoming events, visit PianoForteChicago.com.

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