The first thing that strikes you about the piano-duet partnership of Dina Duisen and Martin James Bartlett is their immaculate ensemble - Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, UK, 22 December 2019. This was evident from the start of Mozart's Sonata in D, K 381, where the spirit of comic opera was never far away, in the helter-skelter opening movement, the aria-like Andante, and the energetic romp of a finale.
Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite No 1, in the composer's own transcription, began with a 'Morning Mood' full of delicate, subtle touches. These continued into 'Åse's Death', though this turned somewhat clangorous in the middle. 'Anitra's Dance' was treated as more of a waltz than I've previously heard, and was perhaps a touch on the quick side. At the bass end of the keyboard, Bartlett gave the start of 'In the Hall of the Mountain King' rather mannered treatment, but those trolls became positively savage by the end.
The two players swapped position for the remainder of the programme. For some reason they omitted the Minuet third movement of Debussy's Petite Suite (and kept very quiet about it). In 'En Bateau' their boat had a tendency to drift lazily, threatening at times to end up becalmed in a backwater. But 'Cortège' was nicely brisk, as was much of the concluding 'Ballet', though here again there was an occasional tendency to go off into a daydream.
Three movements from Rachmaninov's transcription of Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty ended the advertised part of the programme. Duisen and Barlett explored a wide expressive range in 'Introduction and The Lilac Fairy', sometimes slightly at the expense of forward movement. They made the most of the intricate textures and colours of 'Adagio and Pas d'Action', and the well-known 'Waltz' had spirit, though it did feel at times as though they were just skating over the surface.
One of Moszkowski's Spanish Dances - we weren't told which, but it was No 1 - was the lively first encore, 'The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy' was the sweet-toothed second.
Read at ClassicalMusicDaily