Getallo and Andreev © Miguel Bueno
Getallo and Andreev
© Miguel Bueno

Each year at Sommets Musicaux, the series of afternoon concerts are given by young artists of a given instrument or instrument combination: this year, it's the turn of piano four-hands, with the first concert given by the Russian duo Yulia Getallo and Alexander Andreev.  Each year, a composer-in-residence is commissioned to write a piece which will be given its world première by the said young artists: this year, it is Tajikistan-born Israel-resident Benjamin Yusupov, with a series entitled "cultures of the past".

The repertoire for piano four-hands being somewhat more limited than that for last year's cello or the previous year's violin, it's unsurprising that the list of composers being performed features some less familiar names, and I don't suppose I was the only person in the room who had not previously come across the improbably named Ludwig-Wilhelm Tepper de Ferguson, a Polish musician (and sometime diplomat) of Scottish ancestry remembered in Russia as having taught Alexander Pushkin. His D major sonata is a classical work in the general style of Mozart or Haydn.

From the outset, it was clear that Getallo and Andreev have formidable technique, producing perfectly synchronised legato of intricate runs. The Tepper sonata was polished and elegant - though perhaps a little out of balance, with Andreev (at the right of the keyboard) just a shade too loud for Getallo's upper notes to be as clear as one would have liked.

 Yusupov's Egypt started with impressive arpeggios using the full extent of the keyboard and contained a whole series of piano effects that were both interesting and easy on the ear. My favourite was a set of fortissimo chords at the very top of the piano were struck with the loud pedal on and their sound left to hang in the air. But the piece didn't leave me with a great sense of cohesion or progression; at its end, it was clear that hardly anyone in the audience was sure whether or not it was over.

The third piece in the programme, Schubert's B minor Andantino varié, confirmed something of a pattern in the concert: the execution was faultless, but at the end of the piece, I wasn't quite sure that any emotion had been communicated: so far, this had been a concert that excited my admiration but did not touch my soul. Things improved with the last work on the official programme, Anton Rubinstein's Somata in D major, Op. 89. Contemporaries of Rubinstein may have complained his overly effusive style, but I felt that for the first time, Getallo and Andreev really burst into life, generating some power and excitement in his rippling Lisztian phrases, with the use of four hands enabling gloriously rich textures that would have been impossible for any one pianist, even one of Liszt or Rubinstein's virtuosity.

 The Rubinstein sonata is a long piece, though, and perhaps outstayed its welcome: not so for the encode, Ephraim Podgaits' Ironic pas de deux, whose ragtime-infused rhythms allowed the two pianists to let their hair down and let the music flow. Much as I admired the technical excellence of their playing, I couldn't help feeling that a little less precision and restraint earlier in the programme might have made a good concert into a great one.