Women's Philharmonic Advocacy

Women in Music Festival: The Kaplan Duo

by Liane Curtis - March 26th, 2014

The second concert (Mar. 25) of the Eastman Women In Music Festival (the Festival includes several venues that are near Eastman, but not part of Eastman):

The Kaplan Duo delighted us with their noon hour recital at Nazareth College.  I’ve known the pianist Nanette Kaplan Solomon for many years, first through her brilliant recordings of works by American women, and then by attending her performances and presentations at conferences; in fact she just gave a very engaging lecture-recital on Manna Zucca at the Society for American Music Conference (and, good news!  A CD is forthcoming!). So I was delighted for the opportunity to hear her, together with her sister, Iris Kaplan Rosenthal, in a recital of music for piano, four hands.  It’s obvious that the sisters have a lifelong experience of playing together, inspiring each other, and bringing excitement to audiences through their musical performances.

They began with a set of three pieces by Amy Beach, from 1883.  Even at age 16, Beach was a polished composer (as well as interpreter) of piano music.  The Kaplan sisters’ interpretation of the Allegro Appassionato was refreshingly different from the recording I know.  Theirs was smoothly flowing rather than a bouncy staccato.  The Moderato evoked dark cello tones in its exchanges of somber ascending, flowing lines. The harmonies are rich with some surprising modulations penned by the teen-aged Amy. The third movement, Allegro con fuoco, pulsed and surged with dark energy, and had a gently rocking middle section in a major key.

Welsh composer (now living in Schenectady) Hilary Tann composed Water’s Edge in 1993, a work in three connected movements.  The “edge” is the top surface of the water which can bend or reflect the light. Movement one, “Dawn Light,” was spare and built on the piano’s echoing overtones and resonances. It had an evocative, improvised quality.  “From the Riverbed” used oscillating fragments of a harmonic minor scale, gradually building momentum.  Finally, “Toward Dusk” was undulating and atmospheric, gradually fading away. It was an effective work and played with great sensitivity.

Judith Lang Zaimont is prolific and widely respected composer.  The Kaplan Duo performed two movements of her “Snazzy Sonata” (1972).  The “Two-Step” was playful and buoyant, with the real feel of Ragtime. With their energetic flourishes and complicated cross rhythms, the Kaplans had to carefully coordinate their arm crossings.  “Lazy Beguine” was relaxed and sensual, with an undulating melody than moved through different ranges.  The Kaplans created an evocative atmosphere by bringing out a range of lush colors in this work.

The Kaplans have personal friendships with the last two composers.  Their music was new to most of us and a welcome discovery.  Judy Bruce is a successful piano teacher.  She started studying composition as a way to inspire her own children, and then kept going with it very seriously.  Motions (2012) is a set of three pieces, inspired by the activities of children.  The first, “Flying,” was energetic with a refreshing brightness in the melodic vocabulary; “Drifting” evoked a gentle sweetness, and finally, “Jumping” had a relentless energy, with tumultuous, cascading gestures.

The concert ended with two pieces by Jane Leslie.  “A Walk in the Country” (1997) was an effective ballad, a pop song without words. Cascading pianistic flourishes enriched the lovely lyrical melody. “Fanfare” (2005) started with a high propulsive ostinato, that gradually moved to a middle register. Some Bartokian parallelisms were employed with great brilliance, and after a more melodic interlude, the opening ostinato was brought back for an exhilarating conclusion.  This piece was a real showstopper and a great choice.

This hour with the Kaplan Duo went by too quickly; they are very polished artists and musical communicators and I hope they will be recording some of this repertory.