On Sunday (September 13), at St Peter's Church, in a concert organisedd by the Mayor of Marlborough, Councillor Margaret Rose, The Cook and Stanley Piano Duet provided a large audience with a varied range of works.
Berendina Cook and Matthew Stanley had met in 1984 whilst they were music students at the Royal Holloway College, University of London and have continued to play together ever since. They have become established as one of the leading specialists in Piano Duet work, and have played in venues all over the world. International recognition came when in 1996 they won no less than three prizes at the International Piano Duet Competition in Tokyo
The recital began with Mozart's Sonata in C (which may have originally been intended for two pianos.) A spirited allegro opens the piece, contrasting with a gentle andante, before launching into a jaunty allegretto, the main theme returning time and time again.
Schubert was a very able pianist and wrote extensively for the duet. His lovely Rondo in A may well have been written for him to play alongside one of his gifted pupils, probably one of the daughters of his patron, Prince Esterhazy. The work is based on a gentle, poignant theme around which the four hands interweave in a series of atmospheric and intimate variations. Such beauty, from a composer close to death from a terminal illness!
What a contrast this made to the bombastic and extrovert Valses Bourgeois by the larger-than-life Lord Berners. Berners was one of the flamboyant figures of Britain in the 1920’s. A gifted musician, poet, novelist, artist and erstwhile diplomat, his social life revolved around the Sitwells, William Walton and Constant Lambert as well as the Mitford sisters. His hospitality at Faringdon House, where he kept a flock of doves dyed in vibrant colours, was legendary. These Valses, are, not surprisingly, larger than life - showy, brash, satirical, and harmonically edgy. Furthermore, they were brilliantly played - a very suitable end to the first half.
The second half began with a Suite in Three Movements by York Bowen, a sadly neglected composer these days, but one of the recognised musical talents of the interwar years. He was also a talented horn player and piano teacher. His Suite, probably written for his own use, is very difficult and requires substantial changes in mood. The wonderful central movement is a Nocturne, initially a gentle reflective piece which steadily rises to a disturbing climax. The last movement, Dance, is another tour de force.
Debussy’s Petite Suite is well-known to duet lovers and was beautifully played. The four movements begin with En Bateau, (a serene evening on a boat rudely interrupted by a nasty squall!) and includes a striking Minuet before finishing with a very well-known Ballet.
The programme finished with a piano duet version of Gershwin’s famous Rhapsody in Blue, better known in its original version for piano and orchestra. Indeed the work loses something of its variety of colour in this version for duet. Nevertheless, it was played with great style and made a very suitable climax to the evening’s music.
It was most fitting because George Gershwin died at the age of 38 from a brain tumour, thus cutting short a very flourishing career. Berendina’s own son died of a brain tumour in 2000 at the age of 14, while the Town Mayor’s son-in-law suffered the same fate. The concert, appropriately, was to raise money for The Brain Tumour Charity which will remain the Mayor’s Charity of choice throughout her year in office. This was a worthy and most enjoyable start - a very successful concert.