'Twice the Fun'--outstanding in every respect


by Jonathan F. Babbitt

LITTLE COMPTON--On Sunday afternoon the 6th of March, Little Compton was treated to a program, as beautifully executed as it was creatively conceived. Performers Paul Cienniwa (organist and choirmaster at First Unitarian Universalist Church in Boston) and Michael Bahmann (director of music at United Congregational Church of Little Compton) offered "Twice the Fun: Music for Two Fortepianos" in the Sanctuary of United Congregational Church, and the Musica Maris presentation was outstanding in every respect.

Repertoire consisted of works by Wilhelm Friedmann Bach (1710-1784), W. A. Mozart (1756-1791), and Ignaz Pleyel (1757-1831). The repertoire selection demonstrated the transition of keyboard composition from the earlier artistic qualities inherent to the harpsichord to the forshadowing of the scope of the modern piano that was to come.

The opening Bach Sonata was expertly presented, with a sense of relaxation that allowed the florid writing to expand and fill the space with calm. The Mozart Fugue in C Minor that followed was wonderfully nuanced, yet carried out the critical task of presenting the fugal theme (in this case, inverted, retrograde, augmented and then combinations of all three) with clarity and precision. Both players proved equal to the task, and their musical compatibility shone through every note.

Ignaz Pleyel, one-time organist at the Cathedral in Strasbourg, had the misfortune to be caught in the crossfire of the French Revolution. Despite some rather significant personal setbacks (he was Queen Marie Antoinette's personal musician), his compositions look forward to the developments of both the Romantic period musically in terms of stylistic development, and the Industrial period technically in terms of piano construction. Cienniwa and Bahmann took the material in hand in masterful fashion, and further took the audience on a wild ride as they chuckled their way through the Presto movement, allowing all to be part of their private amusement.

The closing Mozart Sonata was nothing short of breathtaking. Both tempo and accuracy were stunning; the effect in the sun-dappled space was intoxicating and invigorating, and the audience was left eager for more of the sound of these two "baby pianos."

The virtuosity of these two players was eclipsed only by the sheer beauty and sound of the venue itself. The United Congregational Church of Little Compton is a space that has, for more than 250 years, given life and breath to song and sound in every possible permutation. This was one of the best.

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