Marcelo Bratke and Marcela Roggeri | Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

A lot of the repertoire for two pianos is arranged from orchestral music, but none the worse for that. The sound of two concert grands is uniquely exciting, though it can be cumbersome if the players are not perfectly synchronised, or if they compete rather than cooperate.

Marcelo Bratke and Marcela Roggeri sound as if they have been playing together for a long time. On Monday, they only looked at each other when they started each piece, not needing to afterwards because they felt the music together. It was an object lesson in true ensemble. He played nearly everything from memory, and while she had prompt scores, for much of the time she didn't appear to need to consult them.

Their programme brought together three American composers united by popular culture. Copland made his own two-piano arrangement of his cowboy ballet Billy the Kid, preserving its lean and airy textures. Just occasionally, in the second number, for instance, dissonances that are absorbed as instrumental colour in the orchestral original sound intriguingly arbitrary in the piano duo version. The hardest thing to make convincing (and get together) on two pianos is probably the broad opening music, which returns at the end. It was very well played.

Danzon Cubano also exists in an orchestral version, though it was originally for two pianos. Bratke and Roggeri got its cheeky rhythmic syncopations perfectly. And they caught the subtle switches of tempo in Copland's El Salon Mexico, arranged by Leonard Bernstein.

Gershwin wrote his Three Preludes for piano solo, and we heard an arrangement which Marcelo Bratke made in collaboration with Julian Joseph, attempting to evoke the sound of a big band. At least, that's what Bratke's programme note said, though the point of a big band sound is surely its brashness, and Bratke's own playing with Roggeri was a bit too refined to create that effect.

I wonder what the Labeque sisters would have done with the same music, because they fairly thrash their instruments. But while the French girls are unrivalled in their way, these Latin Americans have their own discreet, considerate style which is charming rather than stunning. I don't usually find the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story charming, exactly, but I'm grateful that Bratke and Roggeri did their very best to make them so.

Their recent CD of this programme is available on the Etcetera label, distributed by Chandos Records.

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