Güher-Süher Pekinel take listeners to another dimension

Aydın Büke , January 2015

Commissioned by the Basel Chamber Orchestra conductor Paul Sacher in 1936, Béla Bartók aimed to compose his piece Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, for instrument groups that, to date, were very rarely used together, as well as undertake different compositional methods. His inclusion of the piano in the orchestra as a kind of percussive instrument was a result of the conceptualization of his structural idea. Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, which Bartók composed a short time later, was the proof that he had not yet abandoned chasing after different tonal experimentations. In this piece, the composer was demonstrating that percussive instruments could simultaneously be solo instruments and play melodies, while, once again, displaying the piano as a true percussive instrument. Immediately after he settled in the U.S.A., in order to enable the more frequent performance of this sonata in concert halls and following a suggestion from his friends, Bartók then arranged the piece as the Concerto for Two Pianos, Percussion, and Orchestra. The first U.S. performance of the piece was on January 21, 1943 alongside his wife, accompanied by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and, unfortunately, went on record as his final public concert.

In the past several months, this concerto by Bartók has been constituted the weight of the album “Güher & Süher Pekinel in Concert” from the label Arthaus Musik. This album, consisting of live recordings from two of the concerts the artists held in recent years, includes a DVD as well as a CD. Concerto for Two Pianos, Percussion, and Orchestra was recorded live at a 2012 concert Güher and Süher Pekinel gave with the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Orchestra, directed by Zubin Mehta at the Zubin Mehta Festival in Florence. The pieces composed for two pianos or four hands by Schubert, Mozart, Debussy, Poulenc, Infante, Milhaud, Lutoslawski, and Brahms, on the other hand, are from a recording of a concert the artists gave at the Ludwigsburg Festival in 2010.

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Those who have been closely following Güher and Süher Pekinel’s long-lasting successful concert career and listening to their recordings already know very well that these artists transport everything they touch to another dimension. And this time, especially while interpreting Bartók’s concerto, they deeply interrogate the relationship between painting and music. In the album booklet, Güher and Süher Pekinel explain how they began painting in the 1970’s and their interest in the works of Wassily Kandinsky and painters from the “Der Blaue Reiter” group in great detail.

Indeed, in the 1910’s, the search for a new language and new structure had accelerated amongst both musicians and artists. On January 1, 1911 Kandinsky and his painter friends saw a concert of Arnold Schönberg’s works, and Kandinsky, highly affected by what they had heard, wrote a letter to Schönberg, initiating a friendship that would last many years. In a letter to his friend August Macke dated January 14, 1911, Franz Marc, also among those who had seen the same concert, explained its effect on him thusly: “Can you imagine a music in which tonality is completely abandoned? I continually thought of Kandinsky’s large scale compositions, which also carry no trace of tonality. Just like Kandinsky’s ‘jumping spots,’ colored spots appeared on a white canvas with each note. Schönberg makes an effort to act as if consonance and dissonance don’t exist. The thought that ‘dissonances are only distant consonances” has not left my mind today.” Kandinsky explained this relationship between tones and colors in his book Concerning the Spiritual in Art (Über das Geistige in der Kunst), and in later years, these thoughts were of great interest to Bartók.

When Güher and Süher Pekinel interpret Bartók’s concerto, as always, they display a flawless synergy. It is as if two pianos played by four hands, all controlled by the same brain, come together with the other musicians on stage, presenting a celebration that is spectacular to listen and to watch.

Almost all of the pieces that they performed at the Ludwigsburg Festival consist of works that are frequently played by artists in two piano concerts. Yet, even here, when one listens to Schubert’s Fantasia in F minor (D 940) or Mozart’s Sonata in D Major (KV 448), it is as if one can feel the excitement of two pianists playing together for the first time. Combining the excitement of playing for the first time with the experience of making music together for years, is a mastery that only artists like Güher and Süher Pekinel can achieve. In terms of both repertoire and interpretation, this is one of the most important albums of 2014.

Zubin Mehta, Güher & Süher Pekinel in Concert
Bartók: Concerto for Two Pianos, Percussion, and Orchestra; Schubert: Fantasia in F Minor, D940; Mozart: Sonata in D Major, KV 448; Debussy: In Black and White; Infante: Sentimento; Poulenc: Elegy; Lutoslawski: Paganini Variations; Brahms: Hungarian Dance No: 5; Milhaud: Scaramouche
Güher & Süher Pekinel,
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Orchestra, Zubin Mehta
2012 Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and 2010 Ludwigsburg Festival Live Concert Recordings
Arthaus Musik, Unitel, 2014 (DVD & CD)