The Duo Lafitte

Jacques Drillon, Musicologist and journalist with Le Nouvel Observateur

 

« I have known Isabelle and Florence Lafitte for twenty-five years, both personally and in a professional capacity. I’ve heard them play, worked with them and spent a great deal of time with them, indeed I’ve even collaborated with them myself, having written a number of transcriptions for two pianos that they have played and recorded. As a result, I’ve long since learned to admire the way they approach their profession, and also their musical role. These are two pianists who have sacrificed their personal careers to take up the cause of that rare and demanding combination of instruments, the piano duo.

 

The repertoire is huge, ranging from Bach to contemporary composers. It is also of exceptional quality: the sound balance of two pianos playing together is perfect, comparable to the string quartet in terms of strength and subtlety, and as a result the duo has attracted the greatest writers for the piano in every era since the instrument was invented: Bach, as mentioned earlier, but also Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Schumann, Rachmaninov, Ravel, Debussy and, among the moderns, Messiaen, Boulez, Kurtag... The list goes on: Wagner also wrote for two pianos, and so did Mahler. It is not, however, a repertoire that is much played, because pianists with their virtuosity tend, rightly or wrongly, to pursue a solo career. But the Lafitte sisters have worked hard throughout their lives to bring these works, both old and new, before the public, giving listeners an opportunity to enter into a musical world that is absolutely new and exceptionally rewarding.

 

Such has been their ‘mission’. Naturally, the fact that they are twins has been a help. One has to see them practising together to appreciate fully the degree of intimacy that binds them together. They attack the keyboard in the same way, they think together, their phrasing instinctively follows the same lines, they need only a glance to begin, or to alter pace and dynamics in perfect unison. As they work on a piece their discussions are always lengthy, and can become animated: they may share a common goal, but not necessarily the same idea of how to reach it. Anybody else would leave it be. 

They never do. They know that, beyond their love of music, beyond their affection for each other, piano duo technique demands equality of expressive commitment and judiciously measured strength. As long as there are still points of contention, they will argue them. Nothing is left to chance, nothing is left to whichever of the two, for whatever reason – weariness of the argument or sheer fatigue – might first concede. The best solution, not who is most combative of the two sisters, will decide the point.

 

Once in agreement, they begin in earnest, going deeply into every aspect – sound, touch, line – until all has become clear, like a photographer adjusting the lens until every detail is perfectly in focus. The process involves an enormous amount of work. It is exhausting, but inspiring, too: the results, in terms of effect, simultaneity, balance, elegance, power, are truly extraordinary. Everything has been taken into consideration, everything is ready. Right down to the slightest pedalling, everything has been discussed and decided on once and for all. Even the page-turning moments have been carefully studied so as to avoid disturbing the performance and enable the pages to be turned without the need for page-turners beside the players. And yet – no less remarkably – they each retain their own degree of spontaneity: in actual fact, their ability to accommodate the inspiration of the moment in their playing is only possible because of the firm foundations they have laid. The other sister will react to the new idea with absolute immediacy: it is at moments like these that their experience comes into play, together, once again, with the fact of their being twins. Such freedoms are of course premised on the rigour and strictness of their preparatory work. In this, composers and performers are alike: only through perfect awareness of the rules can they break free of them.

 

Audiences never fail to respond to these gifts, ensuring a triumphant reception wherever they play. Their listeners recognize them as accomplished, radiant, inspired and happy artists. Even the untrained ear can guess at it, can hear. After all, there is something about extreme quality which is self-evident, something that speaks and secures attention. This is the essence of how music can be communicated to others. Someone once said that heroism is not performing superhuman feats, but merely ‘doing what can be done’. By forming a piano duo, Isabelle and Florence Lafitte each gave up a brilliant individual career. By promoting this wonderful repertoire in countries all over the world, by dint of hard work, tenacity and talent, as well as by the grace of their good-humoured, natural charm, they have done what ‘could be done’, but few pianists have been willing to do. Is that not heroism? »

Jacques Drillon

 

Duo Lafitte

Par Paul Tortelier

Extract

 

 I was struck by their innate musicality, the accuracy of their expression, the quality of their execution which reveal exceptional mastery for such young artists. I was not the only one to be impressed by the twins profound understanding...