Our piano feature last month included an article by Evan Mitchell on the subject of the stage persona of pianists. Should the performer’s looks and gestures matter, or should purist listeners shut their eyes and use only their ears? In the case of today’s Gstaad chapel piano-four-hands recital by Ani and Nia Sulkhanishvili, there was no question that what you saw formed part of the show.

Duo Sulkhanishvili © Miguel Bueno
Duo Sulkhanishvili
© Miguel Bueno
In the first place, there’s something mildly disconcerting about seeing identical twins playing a single piano. The Sulkhanishvili duo emphasise this (I assume deliberately): two tall girls in long black dresses with long dark pre-Raphaelite style hair, both with highly expressive faces, and both swaying exaggeratedly with the music, sometimes together, sometimes in antiphase. There was a clear impression that you were watching some form of two-headed, four-armed Indian deity.

Personally, I think it added to the fun, particularly since their musicianship was clearly up to scratch. They were quite capable of reproducing all sorts of moods, from the gentle schmaltz in one of Brahms’ Neues Liebesliderwalzer to some high octane con fuoco in the scherzo of Rachmaninov’s Six morceaux. The opening of the Rachmaninov showed impressive legato, with a rapt and shimmering repeated figure in the treble, accompanied by portentous, massive chords in the bass.  And the duo’s ability to play tightly together was every bit as good as you might have expected from the floor show. It’s one thing to play an accented rhythm tightly in time; it’s considerably more impressive to hear a duo play rubato together (with long gaps between the chords) and get the length of the breaks absolutely spot on.

To my surprise, in the presence of music by all these Romantic greats, the piece I will find myself remembering most was Mesopotamia, the day’s world première episode of Benjamin Yusupov’s Cultures of the past. Yusupov must conceive of ancient of Mesopotamia as a particularly violent place, because, after a start of driving rhythmic figures and a roll of Yusupov's characteristic high held notes, the Sulkhanishvilis unleashed a veritable torrent of notes that left me reeling with its intensity. It was a genuine pianistic tour de force.

My cavil with the programme is that I found it rather episodic. The Yusupov aside, after a pleasant Schubert introduction, each of the three items on the programme was a series of short pieces (in whole or in part). The whole concert displayed the versatility of the two pianists in tackling a rich variety of moods, but I did spend most of the closing Dvořák wishing for something more substantial that showed some more emotional development before it was time to move on to the next piece.

Still, there was no doubting the quality, and the concert closed with exactly the sort of encore to send you on your way with a smile, a composition written for them by fellow Georgian Vajha Azarashvile, which sounded like an souped up medley from Broadway. It was played with verve and thoroughly entertained us.

***11