Georgian Chamber Players: Piano Eight Hands & String Octet

The Georgian Chamber Players had some fun with the program for yesterday’s concert by playing with the number eight. Three pieces were for piano eight-hands and the final piece was for a string octet. There was one odd work out that was for piano six-hands, but the smiles on the musicians faces while they played this particularly novel piece excuses breaking the quantitative theme. Besides, taken all together, there were 46 hands needed for all of the works and that is the birth year of Plutarch and also the channel number for the local CBS affiliate which, of course, totally means something.

I generally don’t get very excited about pieces orchestrated for piano four-hands: they tend to be pale copies of grander works reorchestrated to be playable in a private home for private enjoyment. While playing them may be enjoyable, listening to them is at their best a pleasant reminder of something great and, at their worst, just dull. The three works on the program for eight hands, however, were genuinely enjoyable in this orchestration. They started with a nice performance of Mozart’s overture to “Don Giovanni” followed by a delightful take on Saint-Saëns’ “Dance Macabre.” I can’t say that I was terribly excited about Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” but I can say that it didn’t suffer from the orchestration one bit and that it was well played.

The work for piano six-hands was rather novel. Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst Bach, the only grandchild of J.S. Bach to become a musician and composer, composed “Das Dreyblatt” to be performed by one large man and two small women with the man sitting center and playing the outermost portions of the keyboard with his arms around the women. It would be endearing for a parent and two children but can seem a little more sleazy when programmed for a man and two women. It’s a brief but pleasant work and the pianists looked like they were having a ball trying to work around each other.

After an intermission, the ensemble switched to strings for a performance of Mendelssohn’s octet in E-flat minor, with one hand for each year of Mendelssohn’s life lived as of when he wrote it. I love this piece: it’s like a mini-symphony, rich in melody and wonderfully complex in orchestration for such a small ensemble. The musicians handled it exceedingly well and I have to say that, while I enjoyed the first half of the concert, this piece is what made it one to remember. It totally made my afternoon.

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