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Monday, June 26, 2023

Aki Takase & Alexander von Schlippenbach - Four Hands Piano Pieces (Trost, 2023)

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Berlin-based master pianists Aki Takase (75) and Alexander von Schlippenbach (85) are two of the most distinguished composers-improvisers of our time, and also partners in life and in music. They are playing together as a duo for about thirty years (and also in many other formats) and their first piano duet album Live in Berlin 93/94 was released by the legendary label FMP in 1995. Listening to their new piano duet, Four Hands Piano Pieces, recorded in September 2021, it is clear that Takase and von Schlippenbach enjoy and appreciate good arguments in music as in life, but, obviously, know how to settle heated arguments.

Von Schlippenbach describes the duo dynamics in a typical economic language: “'During the first attempts to improvise with four hands on the piano, it soon became clear that playing together without any conceptual guidelines - of whatever kind - can quickly lead to unwanted tautologies or even pleonasms. On the other hand, it is quite possible that with longer experience in practice, something useful will emerge. The present pieces, which were composed over a period of thirty years meet these criteria in different ways”.

Well, Four Hands Piano Pieces proves that much more than “something useful” emerged from this idiosyncratic duo. You can hear in Takase and von Schlippenbach’s visiting with two grand pianos almost the whole musical history of the 20th and the 21st century, from the meticulously composed to the free improvised and everything in between. The short, 11 pieces last only 38 minutes but encompass a rich world of compositional and free (or as von Schlippenbach says: pure) improvisation strategies, and from what von Schlippenbach calls “sporty, acrobatic gymnastics”, through tense collisions of cluster sequences, composed and improvised arguments and quarrels, grotesque dance and self-parody. And one playful cover of German composer Bernd Alois Zimmerman’s "Allegro Agitato" which was composed for a radio play for Elias Canetti's "Die Befristeten".

Takase and von Schlippenbach take the listener for a wild ride, cerebral and thoughtful but also engaging and insightful. There are very few musicians who can offer such a wise and profound spectrum of music.


Watch here: