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Every week, WRTI features a different album on the air. Learn more about them here.

Classical Album of the Week: The Spectacular Naughton Twins' American Postcard

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May 20, 2019. Just in time for Memorial Day, our Classical Album of the Week features all American composers, in duo pianists Christina and Michelle Naughton's third commercial release.

American Postcards, under the Warner Classics label, takes the listener on an American journey through new musical landscapes, stopping briefly for a few familiar sights.

If you've heard Paul Schonfeld's lively and accessible "Café Music," his "Five Days from the Life of a Manic Depressive" for piano 4-hands will show you a different side, or should I say two sides, of Schonfeld, from subdued and reflective (especially in the movement "From a Bintel Brief" — a title taken from a 1900s New York newspaper column that offered advice to Jewish immigrants) to jabbing, frenetic, and complex, as in the movement called "Metamorphoses on Fats' Waller's 'I'm Crazy 'bout my Baby.'"

The Naughtons play Conlon Nancarrow's "Sonatina," arranged for piano 4-hands by Yvar Mikhashoff, with intensity and an almost machine-like perfection that make it easy to understand how Nancarrow would eventually stop writing for human musicians and devote his compositional efforts to the mechanical player piano.

Some less-familiar music of John Adams, his second string quartet, is represented in "Roll Over Beethoven," arranged by Preben Antonsen for two pianos. Adams takes fragments of famous works of Beethoven, his Piano Sonata Op. 110 in A-flat, and his Diabelli Variations, and re-works them through his own modernist sensibility. 

Christina and Michelle Naughton, graduates of the Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute, are the first piano duo to receive an Avery Fisher Career grant, and have been concertizing to great acclaim around the world.

Their style is bold, exuberant, and precise, and their sound, like most fine piano duos, has huge range, from softest pianissimo to almost uncomfortable power -- the loudest piano sound doubled. Their talents shine especially in the music of Aaron Copland -- the dancing rhythms of "El Salón México," arranged for two pianos by Leonard Bernstein, and the lyrical lines of "Variations on a Shaker Melody," arranged for piano 4 hands by Bennett Lerner.

Perhaps the most compelling track is the album opener —a blazing interpretation of a piece that has  mesmerized audiences in its original orchestral version, John Adams' "Short Ride in a Fast Machine," arranged for piano 4 hands by Preben Antonsen. The Naughtons' performance may make the piano duet version of "Short Ride" a new listener go-to.