As part of the 2015 Lancaster International Piano Festival, the Invencia Piano Duo (Andrey Kasparov and Oksana Lutsyshyn) gave an eclectic recital of repertoire ranging from the familiar (Franz Liszt and Isaac Albeniz) to the obscure (Florent Schmitt and Paul Bowles). Unfamiliar repertoire to the audience perhaps, but well known to the duo, much of which it has recorded.  

The duo played Kasparov’s two-piano arrangements of three of the most popular movements from Albeniz’ piano suite Iberia. While they are much like the original piano solo versions, they are more robust in their sound. This was particularly evident in “El Corpus en Sevilla,” where the pealing bells and pageantry of the religious procession were remindful of how this music sounds in the Enrique Fernández Arbós orchestration. “Evocación” was taken at a very slow tempo, which seemed to hinder the musical flow and structure of the piece. No such concerns in “Triana,” however, which was dashed off with all of the panache one could possibly hope for.

Liszt's Totentanz was also presented in Kasparov’s own two-piano arrangement. It successfully incorporated the fireworks one associates with this piece, but not at the expense of the more introspective variations on the Dies irae theme that also are part of this piece. It was a muscular, full-throated presentation that came across convincingly.  

Schmitt’s Lied et Scherzo (1910) was originally composed for double wind quintet, although the composer also made his own arrangement for two pianos. A tone picture-in-miniature consisting of a melodious lied, a driving scherzo and a contemplative coda, it is one of Schmitt’s most masterful works. It features the polymetric layering of contrasting motifs that were quite daring for their day. Invencia’s performance brought forth all that rhythmic tension while keeping a tight rein on a piece that could easily spin out of control. In the scherzo section particularly, the skittering action carried the listeners on the crest of its own excitement.

Kasparov and Lutsyshyn also performed a set of three pieces by Paul Bowles. Both Nocturne (1935) and Night Waltz (1949) are easily accessible pieces, but clearly in a modern idiom. Night Waltz also contains some bluesy chords; it sounds very “American” despite the fact that Bowles had recently moved to Morocco where he would live for the rest of his life. The third piece, the short, minute-long work Cross Country, dates from much later in life when Bowles was doing little composing. In all three works, the Invencia Piano Duo delivered what would have to be considered definitive interpretations, and it makes one curious to discover what gems exists the rest of Bowles’ duo-piano output – a question that will soon be answered.

One item on the program was an original composition by Kasparov – Cadenza for LvB – composed for solo piano in 2011 with a two-piano arrangement prepared this year. Snippets of themes from Beethoven’s first Piano Trio were employed by Kasparov to create this piece. Beethoven or not, make no mistake: the music is über-contemporary and highly polytonal, featuring sometimes-stark tone clusters along with extensive use of the sostenuto pedal. (I was hard-pressed to recognize the themes from Beethoven’s Op.1.) Committed and intense, Kasparov and Lutsyshyn drew powerful sounds and ejaculatory outbursts from the pianos. The audience gave this challenging work its rapt attention.  

As an encore, the appreciative audience was treated to the “Brasileira” movement from Darius Milhaud’s Scaramouche. Kasparov and Lutsyshyn gave full Latin flavor to this popular bon-bon, swinging and swaying to the music while bringing the recital to a joyfully freewheeling conclusion.