Fort Worth — The Cliburn at the Kimbell concert series brings some of the best chamber musicians around to Fort Worth for their annual concert series. These musicians are usually, but not always, pianists in recital. Thursday, March 7, featured the identical twin duo pianists Christina and Michelle Naughton, playing a recital of works for piano four hands.
None of their repertoire Thursday was taxing for the listener—this was a concert more of pleasure than of weight, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
What is remarkable about the Naughton sisters is their degree of uniformity, not only in appearance, but also in gesture, in musical phrase, in movement when on the piano bench. I’ve often commented that pick-up chamber groups frequently have a difficult time sounding like a unified ensemble, but this was the opposite of that—these women, now in their late 20s, have been playing and living together their entire lives, attending each other’s piano lessons and building careers together. So at the keyboard, they play as one person, albeit one person with four nimble hands. They didn’t speak from the stage Thursday, except to announce the encore, so I still don’t know which is which.
While the program was chronologically wide-ranging, from Mozart and Schubert through Ravel, Poulenc, and Copland to Conlon Nancarrow and Paul Schoenfield, the approach was almost universally gentle and joyous. Their Mozart, the Sonata for Piano, Four Hands in D Major, K 381, was particularly sensitive, and Copland’s Variations on a Shaker Melody from “Appalachian Spring” was flawless in its simplicity. These are players with clean, precise technique—so much so that the unforgiving acoustics of the Renzo Piano Pavilion at the Kimbell Art Museum didn’t even reveal many glitches. But their playing is also introspective; they don’t have a flashy style. They’re not telling you they have technique to burn; they’re showing you—and expecting you to pay attention.
Both Conlon Nancarrow’s Sonatina for Piano, Four Hands and Paul Schoenfield’s Five Days in the Life of a Manic Depressive include jazz-inflected styles, and the Naughtons appeared as comfortable in that repertoire as they did in the Mozart or the Schubert. I would have liked to see more shape to phrases in their rendition of Ravel’s Ma mere l’Oye, but that is a small quibble.
This was an utterly charming recital that, while it didn’t ask over much of its listeners, did offer a delightful evening.