Two-piano concert moves from smooth to sassy

Duo piano teams, with two pianists at separate pianos, is a lost art, having languished out of sight for about a half-century. That may be changing if Jack Lantz and Kemp Smeal’s Sunday afternoon program at the La Cañada Presbyterian Church catches on.

Lantz, director of music and worship arts, and his colleague Smeal, organist, pianist and handbell director at the church, designed a handsome program of two-piano music presented as part of the church’s music series, Ovation.

Lantz, at the church-owned, 7-foot Steinway concert grand and Kemp at a borrowed 5-foot baby grand, roared through a program of 13 selections in a 100-minute romp offering a sampler of two-piano music representing hundreds of years of music. The program was presented before a nearly full sanctuary of the church.

The music was presented in five sections with three numbers or movements in each to mark the history of two-piano works. Older works were represented by Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp minor, Edvard Grieg’s “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen” and Wolfgang Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D-major.

Lantz and Smeal worked forward in time with the playing of three well-known hymns, three popular American songs, three movements from French jazz pianist/composer Claude Bolling’s Sonata for Two Pianists No. 1, and concluded with three tunes recorded by probably the best known duo-piano team, Arthur Ferrante and Louis Teicher, whose popularity crested in the 1960s.

Lantz and Smeal were hampered to some degree by their two pianos. Though the instruments are of exemplary backgrounds, they were neither perfectly matched nor perfectly in tune. The grand produced patrician sounds, but the baby grand did not have the ability to meet the concert grand piano’s depth. Differing piano playing styles and the instruments’ dissimilarities led to heavier-than-usual pedaling and miscues.

Melding, though, did occur in Grieg’s “Wedding…” and an unusually sprightly arrangement of the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” in the hymn section that also included “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” and “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.” From the “American” songbook, standards heard were Vernon Duke’s “April in Paris,” Peter DeRose's “Deep Purple,” and Cole Porter's “Night and Day.” The Bolling piece, written in 1989, is very difficult, as it is filled with jazz phrasing and fast-paced keyboard work. Lantz and Smeal were joined in this number by bassist Nick Morabito and drummer Dave Marks to provide yeoman work by all in the modern work.

Saving the best for last, Lantz and Smeal performed three of Ferrante and Teicher’s mid-century recorded hit tunes. Lantz and Smeal obviously rekindled an interest in both the era’s music and the two-piano style with bright and even sassy playing of “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster for the film of the same name, “Jealous Lover” by Charles Williams and incorporated into the film “The Apartment,” and “Exodus” by Ernest Gold. The audience responded, and their enthusiasm brought Lantz and Smeal back for an encore, during which they reprised the exciting “Exodus” music.


What: Ovations

When: Feb. 13, Feb. 18 to 20, March 11 and 12, March 27, April 17, April 22, May 13 to 15, June 10, June 11 and July 3. Times vary by day and type of program.

Where: La Cañada Presbyterian Church, 626 Foothill Blvd., La Cañada Flintridge

Tickets: Suggested donation, $20

Contact: (818) 790-6708

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