Unchanging Discipline, unchanging Quality

Güher – Süher Pekinel’s third DVD album, released by Arthaus, combines a concert ranging from Schubert to Poulenc, with a Bela Bartok rendition conducted by Zubin Mehta. A CD version of the album is also available.

Ufuk Çakmak , December 2014

I believe Güher – Süher Pekinel occupy a special space among Turkish artists. Those of us who love, follow, and practice classical western art constitute a relatively small mass. I can say that even with our unruly virtuosos and good soloists, regardless of how ambitiously and assertively we try to exist within this field, as Turks, we have never been able to be “consistently-good,” due to various reasons. One of these may be the weakness of cultural tradition. I think, maybe our collective performance is in a rocky situation, as we are not actually western.

Let’s take a quick look at the field of virtuosos. I find it’s typical for our class-act artists to be on form one day and to be off the other. Let’s not even get started on our orchestras. However, western artists and orchestras seem to possess a different characteristic: consistently working away with great discipline and achieving the desired result to provide unwavering quality and sound with unchanging discipline; and maintaining that result… That is to say, not giving up after achieving something to boast about. In this sense, the Pekinels have occupied a distinct space ever since they began. If one were to take any of their albums, they would find the same level of effort, discipline, and quality in all. What’s more is that they have achieved a sound that is all their own. Each of their concerts persists at a quality level from beginning to end and in this regard, I find the Pekinels to be completely unique. However, when I look at their upbringing and the France-Germany-U.S. geographic triangle that comprises their educational styles and instructors, I am no longer surprised. Granted, we have many shaky virtuosos who have been internationally trained. As such, I hope that the twins can translate their perfectionist ambition to new Turkish youths through the project they’ve titled “Young Musicians on World Stages.” We need to leave the negative Turkish habits – indiscipline, boastfulness, giving up – behind. I apologize for my harsh words.


The Pekinels have worked with Zubin Mehta many times since the beginning of their careers. One of their latest collaborations was Bartok’s “Concerto for Two Pianos, Percussion, and Orchestra” with the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Orchestra in 2012. The DVD at hand opens with this concert and the Pekinels greet us with a performance that is not only tremendously clean, lively, and joyful, but also incredibly respectful of the music. One of the twins’ most important characteristics is that they don’t draw attention their virtuosity, that they don’t get carried away by the passages’ bravado, and that they drive the piece, step by step, within its defined mechanism without disrupting its measurements. Bartok’s coarse and country-like accents, as it were, never acquire a sharp, piercing, or overtly personal touch from the Pekinels hand, and instead, it is temperately absorbed into the texture. Similarly, their polyrhythmic search for ferocity and ethnic color is found within the scores’ loyal presentation, yet performed perfectly.

After being discovered at a young age, the Pekinels were sent to Paris; followed by long years of education in Germany. After they attended the Curtis Institute upon the special request of famous pianist Rudolf Serkin, they then proceeded to place first in many competitions, both together and individually. Ever since then, rather than melding together as twins, their duo has persisted through the synergistic unity of two different artistic personalities. The duo’s first international rise came when Karajan personally invited them to the Salzburg festival. They then released recording after recording, focusing on the original sections of their piano repertoires, rather than those that had been previously transcribed or adapted.


102191_Pekinel_in_Cover-smallOn the DVD, the Bartok performance is immediately followed by the Ludwigsburg International Music Festival concert. First of all, while all of the world’s piano-duos sit in a formation that allows for the maintenance of eye contact, let me explain why the Pekinels prefer to, or perhaps dare to, sit with one in front of the other, their grand pianos facing the same direction. The face-to-face seating arrangement, causes the cancellation of one of the piano lids and according to the Pekinels, this leads to a 65% loss of sound. Hence, they risk the loss of eye contact and the communication of gestures, favoring this arrangement in the name of sonority.

In my opinion, the concert’s opening piece, Schubert’s “Fantasie in F minor,” is played with extraordinary sensitivity. The artists, who have recorded this piece before and played it repeatedly, approach the piece with a brand new and attentive sensitivity. Starting with the first passage, it is impossible not to admire. One could just listen to and then repeatedly play the first sentence over and over again. Following Schubert, Mozart’s “Sonata” is good for observing the entertaining texture of two pianos, even though it is not one of my favorite pieces by the composer. The Pekinels then go on to combine Infante’s “Andalusian Dances,” with a resplendent sound, sharp touches, Hispanic fire, and magnificent beginnings and endings to their sentences, in a way that cannot be matched. With this concert, they have honestly taken the success of their previous recordings to new heights. Poulenc is then followed by Lutoslawski’s “Paganini-Variatons.” I believe this may be the best rendition of the piece, which I have repeatedly heard from many other duos. The pianists have turned this exceedingly tiring and complex, but equally enjoyable piece into a whirlwind of excitement. The pace that is reached within this locomotive of a rendition is thrilling and they even write in the DVD booklet that they specifically did not practice it. This must be a mode of searching for the new and the immediate within a live performance. Finalizing the show with an encore consisting of Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance” and Milhaud’s “Brazileiras,” which they often play, the Pekinels deserve great great praise for this DVD and for their careers, as well.