Most piano duos are either siblings, sometimes even twins, or a couple in real life. That's not surprising, as performing this way requires an intimate connection.
But what happens when you have four persons at two pianos? The piano duos of Gerwig and Gonzalez and Jost and Costa, each a husband-and-wife team, set their total forty fingers in motion at the Beethovenfest, finally realizing an idea they had ten years ago. Domingos Costa comes from Portugal and his wife Yseult Jost from France. Christine Gerwig is German and her husband Efrain Gonzalez Ruano is Mexican. The four met ten years ago when both duos won a first prize at the Edvard Grieg Piano Competition in Oslo. They called it fate and vowed to perform together one day.
Explaining the particular dynamics of this unusual formation to DW, Domingos Costa said: "In the end, we have four conductors. It's a special kind of musical organization because of course the individual ideas are not put in place until the end. So you have to reach a consensus, but I think we managed to find a method of communication that enables that."
Bedrich Smetana's "Sonata in One Movement in E Minor for Eight Hands at Two Pianos" is a quick-firing piece with runs up and down the keyboard.
Efrain Gonzalez Ruano brought along a piece by the Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas. The symphonic poem "Sensemaya" is based on a story from folklore about the killing of a snake with that name. In the story, a magician ceremoniously transforms a princess into a snake. But when the snake is killed, it's the magician who dies, not the princess.
Revueltas' orchestral work is popular in Mexico, and Christine Gerwig encouraged her husband to transcribe it for piano-eight-hands. Fellow-pianist Domingos Costa feels that Gonzalez Ruano did a good job: "When you put a lot of pianists together, usually it's very loud. But Efrain was able to filter the musical texture and create space within the score."
Forty fingers conveying Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 isn't about pianos imitating the sound of an orchestra, says Christine Gerwig: "I think we have a focus on the different voices and on this transparent sound and not so such on the heavy sound of the orchestra."
Yseult Jost even says that in some ways, the adaptation of Beethoven's Fifth is better than the original: "Sometimes when you hear some orchestras you don't hear some themes going from one instrument to the other because sometimes certain instruments are really too loud. For us it was very important to adjust the dynamics so that one can really hear the themes as they come along."
Sonata in One Movement in E Minor for Eight Hands at Two Pianos
Silvestre Revueltas / Efrain Gonzales Ruano
Sensemaya, version for eight hands at two pianos (excerpt)
Ludwig van Beethoven / Carl Burchard
Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, op. 67, transcribed for eight hands at two pianos
Cristine Gerwig, piano
Efrain Gonzalez Ruano, piano
Yseult Jost, piano
Domingos Costa, piano
Recorded by West German Radio, Cologne (WDR) in the Volksbank House, Bonn on September 12, 2018Rick Fulker