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Duo Pianists Misha and Cipa Dichter Open Mainly Mozart Festival
I was just beginning to think that an entire evening of thundering two-piano music in the gem-like but intimate setting of the Neurosciences Institute Auditorium was way too much of a good thing, when Cipa Dichter disappeared offstage and Misha Dichter began to play Franz Liszt's "Funérailles" for solo piano. Instantly the murky clouds parted and rays of sunlight burst through: his playing was full of contrasting colors, perceptive nuance and ardor, the qualities that make piano performance truly blissful and the reasons the Mainly Mozart Festival's opening-night patrons gave up a perfectly good Tuesday evening (June 7) to crowd into this dark recital hall.

Not that the Dichter husband-and-wife duo had played indifferently together-far from it. Their keyboard skills and ensemble coordination were exemplary in their first-half set of three Mozart pieces. But the repertory for two pianos tends to be less than inspiring, and, indeed, two of their Mozart works were mere transcriptions.

The Dichters allowed their program-opening"F Minor Fantasia for a Musical Clock," K. 608, (in a predictably muscular arrangement by Ferruccio Busoni) to trundle along with a cocky majesty that made it almost endearing, particularly the more transparent fugal episodes. Musical clocks were the trendy toys of late 18th-century Donald Trumps, oversized music boxes with rows of actual organ pipes that played music automatically on the hour. When Mozart's bills began to pile up, he would reluctantly agree to write pieces on commission for nouveau-riche patrons and their amusing toys. The "F Minor Fantasy" is usually performed in organ transcription, a more convincing and sonically varied adaptation than two pianos.

Edvard Grieg's two-piano arrangement of Mozart's "C Major Piano Sonata," K. 545-the perky sonata that every piano student learns or attempts to learn-seemed more like a parlor trick than a serious work. Cipa stylishly played most of the Mozart Piano Sonata pretty much as originally written, while Misha took the secondorole, Grieg's mushy accompaniment that added anachronistic harmonic stuffing to a piece that didn't need it. It was like pouring chocolate sauce on a perfectly prepared Wiener Schnitzel.

Among Misha's solos, Liszt's "Funeral Gondola No. 2" and his "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15" (based on the celebrated "Rákóczi March") clearly demonstrated why this 65-year-old performer has fulfilled the promise of his triumph in the 1966 International Tchaikovsky Competition. He sensitively probed the unorthodox harmonic palette and discreetly conjured the fog-shrouded mysteries of the "Funeral Gondola" tone poem, but when it came to the daunting pyrotechical challenges of the "Hungarian Rhapsody," he subdued them with even calmer majestic technique.

The duo's two large-scaled Liszt offerings, the "Les Préludes Symphonic Poem" (arranged by the composer) and "Concerto Pathétique" proved more winning than the Mozart selections. I particularly admired their sense of abandon in the first and the spirituality they evoked from the Concerto's hymn-like middle movement.

The Mainly Mozart Festival continues through June 18, with the majority of its concerts in downtown San Diego at the Balboa Theatre, although violinist James Ehnes returns to the Neurosciences Institute venue for a solo recital on Friday, June 17.

Kenneth Herman, San Diego.com
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