PIERCE & JONAS PIANO DUO
MENDELSSOHN: CONCERTOS NOS.1 & 2 for TWO PIANOS
PIERCE & JONAS PIANO DUO
SLOVAK STATE PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA
“Performing this pairing is no small feat. For 20 years Joshua Pierce and Dorothy Jonas have canvassed composers’ works that feature a set of keyboards, and the range of styles and flavor is varied. Bystrìk Rezucha somersaults through this electrifying music that brings reconfirmation of Mendelssohn’s genius… Rezucha’s sufficient tempo allows Pierce and Jonas room for fingering the dexterous demands without creating sloppiness… these creations have indelible, likeable variations within a unified tonal scope.”
Christie Grimstad, ConcertoNet – October 2012
"The version [of the Allegro] on this disc melds careful editing by Pierce with bits of completions by Franz beyer and Paul Badura-Skoda. The result is a cohesive and stylish tribute to Mozart... The Concerto K.365 receives a delightful treatment as Pierce and Jonas interact with seamless vibrancy. The pianists apply fine rhythmic propulsion to the quick outer movements, passing lines deftly from one to the other, knowing exactly when to predominate and when to lend support. In the slow movement, they're keenly sensitive to the music's serene beauty, and conductor Paul Freeman and the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra are elegant colleagues. Pierce and Jonas are as assured, refined and articulate in these intimate scores (solo works) as they are in the grander orchestral world"
Donald Rosenberg, Gramophone - November 2011
"The presentation of the disc is admirable, with excellent notes on the music and the performers, and the performers do all they can with the music... there is no lack of poetry in the gentler passages and the soloists’ quiet playing is delightful."
John Sheppard, MusicWeb International - March 2010
"Brilliantly played...lively performances"
Turok's Choice, Issue No.219 - March 2010
"[These performances] by Joshua Pierce and Dorothy Jonas, a duo that has been playing for some time to wide acclaim is quite the sparkler, as good as I have heard... the orchestra plays very well, certainly well enough for this music, and the pianist add a robust degree of flashiness that suits it well... Every Mendelssohn collection worth its salt needs these works, and this is as fine a place to start as I have heard... This is an enjoyable release of some esoteric music that will be a worthy addition to your catalog."
Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition - February 2010
"In these 1995 performances by the famed duo of Joshua Pierce and Dorothy Jonas, one notices many instances of the spirited and imaginative interplay of the two pianos with each other and with the orchestra, which is the hallmark of the duo concerto style... In Concerto No.2, the Pierce-Jonas Duo, once again with the able collaboration of the Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra under Bystrik Režucha, revel in the yet more sophisticated counterpoint and the beautifully balanced interplay between the orchestral strings and winds, between the two keyboards and the orchestra, and between each other as soloists. As with Concerto No. 1, Pierce, Jonas and friends succeed in capturing both the sheer excitement and the sense of fun inherent in the music."
Audio Video Club of Atlanta - July 2009
PROGRAM NOTESFrom a strictly creative point of view, Felix Mendelssohn may have been the greatest musical prodigy of all time. The modern view of Mendelssohn as the creator of some pretty salon music in the vein of the “Songs Without Words” misses 90% of what this one-man musical world was about. Mendelssohn the symphonist, Mendelssohn the chamber musician, Mendelssohn the choral composer, Mendelssohn the inventor of modern conducting, and above all, Mendelssohn the virtuoso pianist, were all facets of the musical personality of this single most dynamic and influential figure in central European early nineteenth century music. In effect, Mendelssohn—by his example, by his performing ability and by the impact of his music—changed European musical life in ways that remain the norm for the world of classical music. Those years, when Mendelssohn appeared on the scene like a shooting star, were the heyday of the ‘brilliante’ virtuoso pianist/composers like Czerny, Kalkbrenner, Moscheles, Thalberg, Weber, Reinecke and many others. Mendelssohn, who appeared at an incredibly young age amidst this company, held his own as both a performer of tremendous ability and a composer of virtuosic keyboard music in the ‘brilliante’ style. Excellent examples of this can be found on Joshua Pierce’s MSR release “Rondo Brilliant” [MS1196]. In the case of the music at hand, just listen to the steady, almost non-stop, stream of double notes in the E major Concerto or the persistent virtuosity in the A-flat major. Mendelssohn’s London debut, which established him in England in a way unmatched by any other composer for generations, consisted of his own Two Piano Concerto in A-flat (performed with Ignaz Moscheles), Weber's Concertstuck and a sensational performance of the Beethoven “Emperor” Concerto!
Blessed with the literally felicitous name of Felix or ‘happy one,’ with a huge talent, and with the most benign circumstances of family and upbringing, Mendelssohn was truly born under a lucky star. His grandfather, Moses Mendelssohn, was one of the major writers and philosophers of the German Enlightenment. Grandson Felix was born on February 3, 1809, in Hamburg, Germany, one of four children of Moses’ son, the banker Abraham Mendelssohn and Lea (or Leah) Salomon Mendelssohn. Felix was brought up in the comfortable and cultured home that the Mendelssohns established in the liberal and burgeoning city of Berlin. From the earliest age, he enjoyed the full support and encouragement for his artistic ambitions from both his family and the larger community. No composer ever had so few obstacles to the realization of his talent. In 1825, at the age of 16, he composed his Octet for strings and shortly thereafter, just barely on the far side of 17, the overture for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, still his best-known music and the work that perhaps best encapsulates early German romanticism. Mozart was many years older before he achieved anything remotely comparable in maturity and originality.
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PIERCE & JONAS have been called “consummate technicians with marvelous articulation“ and ”crystalline performances… the ultimate in crispness, producing performances that go far beyond documentation” by Fanfare Magazine. While the San Francisco Chronicle has praised their “Exceptional ensemble and glitter,” New York Newsday has said that “they displayed that sort of emotional and interpretive union that must be second nature to a two piano team.” The Washington Post called them “skilled and idiomatic” and The New York Times described them as “technically ingenious…a hand in glove performance”. Turok’s Choice has said of the duo: “No performers have done more to bring 20th-century repertory for two pianos and orchestra to the listener’s attention than the duo-piano team of Pierce and Jonas.” One of the most imaginative and compelling two piano teams around, Pierce and Jonas have been successfully performing and recording the unusual and neglected two-piano repertoire of the 19th and 20th centuries since the mid-1980’s.
The duo has appeared with many symphony orchestras world-wide including those of Houston, San Antonio, Mexico City and Luxembourg as well as the Royal Philharmonic, the London Philharmonia, the National Symphony of Polish Radio and Television, (Katowice), Luxembourg Radio Symphony, the Slovak Philharmonic, State Philharmonic of Kosice, Czech Radio Symphony of Prague, the Orchestra da Camera di Roma, the Chicago Sinfonietta, San Antonio Symphony, the Philharmonia Virtuosi of New York and Utah Symphony. Among their many recent performances include concert appearances in San Diego, CA, Tijuana, Baja Mexico, Bratislava, Slovakia and various cities in the Czech Republic, in performances Mozart’s Two Piano Concerto in E-flat K365. Their American performances of this work prompted Ken Smith of the New Jersey Star Ledger to write: “Pierce and Jonas work marvelously in their framework, trading the musical material back and forth comfortably without leaving seams in the textures, yet shaping it with a hint of their own personalities in the process.” Paul Somers of Classical New Jersey writes: “Pierce and Jonas play the Mozart Double Concerto with a sense of gallant elegance the piece demands.”
The Pierce and Jonas Duo has performed and recorded all the standard repertoire for two pianos and orchestra as well as introduced and recorded many important twentieth century works including Walter Piston’s Concerto for Two Pianos, Benjamin Britten’s Scottish Ballad, Morton Gould’s Dance Variations for Two Pianos and Orchestra, Paul Creston’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, Bohuslav Martinu’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, as well as works by Nicolai Berezowsky, Francis Poulenc, Alexander Tansman and Gian Francisco Malipiero. Their recordings have ranged from the complete two piano works of Mozart to John Cage’s Three Dances for Two Prepared Pianos (Wergo), Charles Ives’ Three Pieces in Quartertones, (Sony Classical and PITCH) along with the Concerto for Two Pianos & Orchestra (1993) (MMC) by the late American composer Robert Starer (Pierce/Jonas chosen by the composer to give the European premier/Mischa and Cipa Dichter gave the American premier). In a letter to MMC Records, 12/15/98, the late composer, Robert Starer wrote upon hearing the recording: “I find Joshua Pierce and Dorothy Jonas brilliant technically and highly sensitive and expressive musically. Their interpretation of the second movement of the concerto is truly poetic and they caught the spirit of the third perfectly. There is nothing to complain about the playing of the outer movements either; they have drive and intensity.” David Paladino of the Westfield Times–Leader, New Jersey, has praised this duo-piano team who have “set the standard for many pieces including many first time recordings.”
In 1984, world-renowned Academy Award winning composer, Miklos Rozsa, offered to write for the team a work which became the Spellbound Concerto Fantasie for Two Pianos and Orchestra (a work twice as long as the original Spellbound score, including material not used on the original soundtrack). He also wrote for Pierce/Jonas his New England Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra based on music from the films Lydia and Time Out of Mind. The premier performance took place at Salt Lake City and at Snowbird with the Utah Symphony Orchestra (“…polished and sensitive technicians.”—Paul Wetzel, Salt Lake City Tribune) and subsequent performances with the Midland-Odessa Symphony (“Dynamically performed with precision and technical excellence.”—Skye Osborne Odessa American/Texas. These critically acclaimed performances resulted in the team being invited to give a Command Performance for the Royal Family with the London Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall/London. On October 19, 1997 Pierce and Jonas gave the world premier performance of the Concerto for Two Pianos & Orchestra (1996) which was composed for them by William Thomas McKinley, with the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Valek in Smetana Hall, Prague. In 1999, Helicon released the world premiere recording of the 1958 Pulitzer Prize winning Concerto for Two Pianos & Orchestra (1953) by composer William Quincy Porter. Starting in 1992, Mr. Pierce and Ms. Jonas presented a unique and exciting series of performances at CAMI Hall, New York University and at MicroFest Trenton, New Jersey as part of Johnny Reinhard’s American Festival of MicroTonal Music performance series. They presented first performances of two piano works by Stefen Konicek (Preludium, Blues and Toccata) and Roland Moser’s Homage AO as well as two-piano works by Alan Hohvaness, Mordecai Sandberg, Ivan Wyschnegradsky, Bruce Mather, and Charles Ives of which, Kyle Gann of the Village Voice said: “very satisfying performances of some very difficult music… and imbued with spirit.”
In 2004, Pierce & Jonas released a new album of World Premier Recordings entitled “Pierce & Jonas Play Rare Works for Two Pianos and Orchestra.” Along with the North American Square Dance Suite for Two Pianos and Orchestra by Arthur Benjamin and the Concerto Italienne for Two Pianos and Orchestra by Pierre Max Dubois, they recorded the Two Piano Concerto (1946) by Roy Harris, the latter an obscure yet extremely important work in this genre by one of America’s most important composers of the 20th century.
FELIX MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Concerto No.1 in E major for Two Pianos and Orchestra (1823)
Concerto No.2 in A-flat major for Two Pianos and Orchestra (1824)