Duo Stephanie and Saar’s Beethoven Dialogues, the second New Focus release following their critically acclaimed Bach Crossings, recasts three of Beethoven’s iconic op. 18 set of string quartets in transcriptions that illuminate fascinating essential characteristics of these works.
String Quartet in F Major, Op. 18, No. 1
|01||Allegro con brio|
Allegro con brio
|02||Adagio affetuoso ed appassionato|
Adagio affetuoso ed appassionato
|03||Scherzo: Allegro molto|
Scherzo: Allegro molto
String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18, No. 4
|05||Allegro ma non troppo|
Allegro ma non troppo
|06||Andante scherzoso quasi Allegretto|
Andante scherzoso quasi Allegretto
String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6
|09||Allegro con brio|
Allegro con brio
|10||Adagio ma non troppo|
Adagio ma non troppo
|12||La Malinconia: Adagio - Allegretto quasi Allegro|
La Malinconia: Adagio - Allegretto quasi Allegro
Duo Stephanie and Saar’s Beethoven Dialogues, the second New Focus release following their critically acclaimed Bach Crossings, contains three piano four hands transcriptions of Beethoven’s iconic Op. 18 set of string quartets. It is fascinating to hear this timeless material lifted out of its original context and instrumentation and placed onto a keyboard, and reveals much about the core strength and malleability of Beethoven’s writing. Movements that are fleet and light in the string quartet may become more deliberate, exposing the harmonic motion in a different way, such as the opening Allegro con brio from the Bflat Major quartet, Op. 18 no. 6. Music that in the string quartet version is broadly expressive becomes more reflective and introspective when mapped onto the piano, such as the Adagio affetuoso ed appassionato second movement of the F major Op. 18 no. 1 quartet. Despite the early date of composition of these works in Beethoven’s career, in these piano versions, one hears many hints of the late piano works and even some foreshadowing of the resignation and wisdom of his late string quartets.
With the growth of the keyboard in the nineteenth century, transcriptions of prominent works, whether for orchestra, string quartet, or another combination, became a popular way for well off music lovers to get to know the repertoire in lieu of hearing performances in their original instrumentations. These transcriptions by Hugo Ulrich and Robert Wittman skillfully adapt the famous op. 18 set for four hands, thinning out dense textures and creatively solving doubling issues while preserving Beethoven’s original intent.
Duo Stephanie and Saar have been praised for their “beautifully understated performances” (NY Times) and “elegance and subtlety” (Baltimore Sun) and have recently appeared in a special collaboration with the New World Symphony in a new arrangement of Stravinsky’s Petrouchka, on the prestigious Dumbarton Oaks series in Washington D.C., and in a repeat invitation to perform on the Portland International Piano Festival in Oregon.
Engineer: Ryan Streber
Producer: Dan Lippel and Duo Stephanie and Saar
Recorded at Oktaven Audio, October 12, 2013 and November 7, 2013
“Pianists Stephanie Ho and Saar Ahuvia collaborate as DUO Stephanie & Saar in dazzling performances filled with visceral excitement, elegance and artistic vision. “ Stephanie and Saar’s last night’s performance once again recalled all the epithets of elegant and innovative, that have been following them throughout their career.” ~ Radio Sarajevo
Recent career highlights include multiple performances of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring at New York City’s Lincoln Center and other venues in Tel Aviv, Sacramento, Portland and Providence, among others. Miami’s Dranoff Two Piano Foundation featured Stephanie and Saar in a jazz-inspired program at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center and Piano Slam with DJ Cardi at the Adrienne Arsht Center. They are regulars and audience favorites at New York City’s hip (le) poisson rouge, selling out every show they present at the club.
The duo are founders and artistic directors of Makrokosmos Project, a critically acclaimed Oregon-based new music festival featuring dynamic American composers of our time. In its sixth year, the festival is entirely driven by community support. Some of the featured composers include Kenji Bunch, Gabriela Lena Frank, Caroline Shaw, Julia Wolfe, John Luther Adams, Karen Tanaka, Michael Johanson and Alexander Schwarzkopf, among many others.
As probing recording artists, the duo explores repertoire with concomitant classical and contemporary sensibilities. Bach Crossings, their debut album on New Focus Recordings, features whimsically soulful four hand transcriptions of Johann Sebastian Bach by György Kurtág. God’s Time is the Very Best of Times, a favorite with audiences both in person and online, was featured on the holocaust documentary feature film Red Trees. Beethoven Dialogues, their first album showcasing Beethoven Quartets in four hand transcriptions, was chosen as Album of the Week by NYC’s WQXR 105.9FM.
Stephanie and Saar are the first piano duo to perform and record the complete Art of Fugue in four hands and two piano settings. “Their vision of an Art of Fugue that is a work of performance art, not an academic piece to be listened to reverently... This is creative music- making of an extraordinarily high level.” ~ Art Music Lounge
Married to one another since 2005, Stephanie and Saar met by reading through Beethoven Quartet transcriptions, a project encouraged by Leon Fleisher. Outdoor enthusiasts, they can be found hiking backcountry trails along the peaks of the Pacific Northwest, or climbing granite boulders on the Appalachian Trail in the Northeast. Please visit them at www.stephsaarduo.comhttp://www.stephsaarduo.com
The husband-and-wife team of Stephanie Ho and Saar Ahuvia – Duo Stephanie and Saar for short – have made a name for their thoughtful, resourceful programming. Their third album together is a case in point, devoted to four-hand arrangements of Beethoven's early string quartets, the Opus 18 cycle (Nos. 1, 4 and 6). The transcriptions, by Hugo Ulrich and Robert Wittmann, help us hear Beethoven’s writing in a fresh new light. Dense textures breathe anew, bold harmonic shifts are more exposed and melodies and counter-melodies are clarified.
Beethoven, “Dialogues” performed by Duo Stephanie and Saar (New Focus Recordings). The idea behind this high-minded disc had potential. Duo Stephani and Saar, playing four-hand piano, give us three of Beethoven’s early-period string quartets Op. 18 – No. 1, No. 4 and No. 6. I love anything arranged for piano. It can always be counted on to bring out new things in the music. And it’s heartwarming how this disc’s creators pay homage to the lead of visionary teachers including Karl Ulrich Schnabel and Leon Fleisher. Listening to the music, though, I was a little disappointed. On the one hand the novelty was there – I could barely recognize the music, even though I’ve heard the quartets a lot and paid close attention to them. On the other hand, the music sounded mechanical. It worked as a kind of exercise, but you get no sense that it is living and breathing the way you get when you hear a string quartet play it. Whether that’s the fault of the arrangers (Hugo Ulrich and Robert Wittmann) or the performers, or whether the quartets just don’t work on the piano, I’m not sure. Playing the string quartets as collaborative piano pieces does sound like an avenue worth exploring.
(Mary Kunz Goldman)
Before mechanical sound reproduction, large-scale music was often first experienced in piano transcriptions, some created by journeymen composers of talent. One such, Hugo Ulrich (1827-1872), born in Opole, Silesia, struggled financially, creating a piano trio (dedicated to his mentor, music editor Siegfried Dehn) and symphonies before resorting to transcriptions of symphonies and other works as subsistence labour. Of these faithful, yet pianistically rewarding works by Ulrich, Stephanie Ho and Saar Ahuvia have chosen transcriptions -- done in collaboration with Robert Wittmann, another now-forgotten composer -- of three early Beethoven string quartets for piano four hands.
These transcriptions are based on a profound understanding of melody and the sublte progress of musical ideas, conveyed in a refined fashion by Ulrich and his partner. Likewise, Ho and Ahuvia prove to be uncommonly thoughtful and co-operative in these intimate efforts. The pianists themselves observe in CD booklet notes that the works contain Beethovenesque 'bravura passagework, powerful symphonic cadences, [and] diabolical four-part fugues.' These challenges they meet with abundant skill and self-effacing mastery. Ahuvia explains that he discovered these transcriptions when Leon Fleisher, his teacher at Baltimore's Peabody Institute, ordered his students to examine them as a way of revivifying Beethoven's spirit at the keyboard beyond his piano sonatas. Indeed, this is a transcendent reminder of past four-handed glories, following the Prague Piano Duo's vivid recording of the same composer's Seventh Symphony in Ulrich's transcription (on Praga SACD PRD/DSD 250219).
Before recordings and radio were invented, the piano represented one’s home entertainment center. If you wanted to hear a Beethoven string quartet, you had to seek out a live quartet performance, or you could simply play the piece on the piano, usually in an arrangement for one piano four hands. Thousands of these arrangements existed, although few remain in print. In 1980 Dover reprinted the Hugo Ulrich and Robert Wittmann Beethoven Quartet transcriptions. They are skillfully wrought for the piano, yet manage to retain the flavor of Beethoven’s original timbres in regard to textural transparency and voice leading, losing nothing in translation from strings to keyboard. What is more, they are rewarding to play and to hear, which is not always the case with four-hand arrangements.
Stephanie Ho and Saar Arhuvia began investigating the four-hand Beethoven quartets at the suggestion of their teacher Leon Fleisher, who encouraged his students to probe Beethoven beyond the iconic 32 solo piano sonatas. Aside from their impeccably calibrated ensemble work on all levels, Ho and Arhuvia bring a mindful, chamber-like aesthetic to these scores in terms of motivic interplay, balances, and dynamic scaling. Tempos for faster movements never exceed what strings can do comfortably; if anything, they tend to fall on the conservative side. Yet this allows for the Op. 18 No. 6 Scherzo’s cross-rhythmic phrases to settle and breathe over the bar lines, and the Op. 18 No. 4 Scherzoso quasi allegretto’s alternating staccato and sforzando markings to effectively register. On the other hand, most quartets can handle Op. 18 No. 1’s Allegro finale at a brighter, more incisive clip. By contrast, the Op. 18 No. 1 and 6 Adagios benefit not only from the duo’s vibrant pace but also the uniformity with which long lines pass back and forth between the pianists. Aside from a tinge of stridency in the loudest passages, the duo’s refined and intelligent interpretations are well recorded. - Jed Distler, Jan. 20, 2015