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​​Review by Paul Merkley FRSC 

Toronto ON March 26th 2018

In the early twentieth century there were musical gems to be heard in salons. The modern-day equivalent is the house concert and the same principle holds true today. Charissa Vandikas and Linda Ruan have won concerto competitions, and have been heard and will be heard with orchestras, but it was a special treat to hear them perform beautifully at a house concert in Oakville today.

It takes special skills for two players with four hands to navigate the same keyboard successfully. I ought to know; I play in a piano duo—oh, we are not famous yet, but give us another month or two. To avoid the inevitable collisions, the confusion of who goes over and who goes under, to make the desperately fast page turns, all of these get in the way of the goal of being exactly together in time and expression.

The arrangement, by a relative of Vandikas, of Libertango was a crowd pleaser, with the swoops, slides, and flourishes that make a good tango. The performers carried it off with aplomb.

It was perhaps in the Mozart sonata that the ensemble was at its tightest. One of my friends in the audience remarked that they played together so precisely that it sounded as if there was only one performer, and indeed it did. The playing was crisp, light, and, in a word, Mozartean. Ruan explained that they not only practise together frequently, they are practically inseparable. As I think about it, this factor could be slowing the progress of my own duo—we live apart and take separate vacations (we even go to different concerts).

Next on the program were three movements from Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite. These represented a style that contrasted greatly with the Mozart sonata. Ravel’s piece is more about tone palette and sonic effects than form. La Fiamatta played these movements carefully and beautifully.

Next came Schubert’s impressive Fantasy in F minor, one of the best known works for piano four hands. The pair did beautiful work with the dynamics, and especially with the timing of the entries. In this work Schubert plays with major and minor, and, as in other of his works, sometimes the soft entry in the major key can be heart-rending. In this sonata there is a good deal of question and answer between the two players, and the duo carried this off to great effect. Their playing was simply beautiful to hear.

Unwilling to end the concert on the mildly melancholic note of Schubert, the pair rounded off the afternoon with two of the Gazebo Dances by John Corigliano (composer of the score for the film The Red Violin). They played his Waltz and his Tarantella. Both were in the style of chromatic versions of traditional forms. They were well interpreted, and made a strong finish to a fine day.

La Fiammata will perform Francis Poulenc's Concerto in D Minor for Two Pianos and Orchestra, FP 61  with the Royal Conservatory of Music Orchestra under the baton of Johannes Debus at 8pm on Friday April 20th 2018 in Koerner Hall.

La Fiammata: Piano Duo on Fire at a House Concert

Linda Ruan and Charissa Vandikas