July 8, 2012
Still not a household name (for the time being), ZOFO first needs to be identified and explained: Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi, two acclaimed solo pianists, joined forces in 2009 at a San Francisco Conservatory of Music recital, and embarked on a new career. Why the name "ZOFO"? Not even Google knows.
It was on Sono Luminous (DSL-92151) that ZOFO's first CD was released, Mind Meld: Works for One Piano, Four Hands, material taken from that first San Francisco performance.
Four-hands-one-piano performances are dime a dozen, but not the ZOFO way. They are among the handful (ahem) of full-time professional duos, and in this CD, their unusual combination of bravura and depth is obvious from the get-go.
As you listen to the overture to Berstein's Candide (arranged by Harold Shapero), the immediate association for the listener is the song from another Bernstein, West Side Story: "Make of our hands, one hand / Make of our hearts, one heart."
The pianists have their distinct voices, but the combination is an integrated whole, similar to a great orchestra's fusion of individual instruments.
The repertory is varied and unusual. Shapero, 92, the arranger for the Bernstein, is also represented by his 1941 Sonata for Piano Four Hands, a neoclassical gem with Stravinskian flavor — ironic as Stravinsky, having looked at a composition by Shapero told the young man to conduct rather than compose - a road not taken.
ZOFO's interpretation of the complex, shimmering harmonies of Debussy's Epigraphes antiques is simply gorgeous, especially in "Pour que la Nuit Soit Propice" (awkwardly but correctly translated as "That the night may be propitious") and "Pour Remercier la Pluie au Matin ("To give thanks for the morning rain").
The biggie is Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, showing off the two players' virtuosity. Most likely the problem is in the ear of the beholder — so used to orchestral accompaniment of the ballet — but at first, the ZOFO performance sounds a bit thin. And yet, as the work progresses to the pulsing, throbbing sounds of "The Sacrifice," Zimmermann and Nakagoshi do full justice to this orgiastic masterpiece.