Concerto Without Orchestra

You might find yourself wondering how far into the past you’ve strayed during this excellent piano concert by Steven Worbey and Kevin Farrell. Their unthreatening, delightfully camp humour and delivery smacks of a bygone era, although they do take care to modernise their show with complex renditions of popular music. Their stage presence is natural, confident and full of character. Almost immediately they are racing through an extremely complex Hungarian Dance, transposed into a different key and adapted for four hands. As their fingers flutter deftly over the keys, they make endearing, silly faces at the audience.

They’re extremely likeable and manage to be informative about their repertoire without being overly patronising.

They’re extremely likeable and manage to be informative about their repertoire without being overly patronising. The music they play is not meant for one or even two pianists. They manage to emulate an entire organ, pedals included, with Widor’s famous Toccata and an entire orchestra with John Williams’ Love Theme from Superman. They make a big deal, too, out of playing Albeniz’s Asturias (or Leyenda), though this is actually a solo piano piece, not a duet. Still, their use of muffling in the opening section to imitate a classical guitar (on which it is commonly played) is a nice touch.

A screen displaying their hands on the keyboard is only switched on halfway through the performance, which feels like a missed trick. Perhaps this is so that we focus on their theatrical, funny performances at the start of the show, but it’s a shame to have our collective attention herded in this way. Watching their arms and hands intertwine as they take parts over from one another is a true joy; they are a different kind of virtuosic.

When they start their medley of pop songs, Coldplay’s Viva la Vida feels jarringly simplistic in comparison to what has preceded. In fact, most of the ‘pop’ elements to the show – and they only really occur once, here – appear designed to make the classical stuff more accessible. Only the Bach-style fugue based on Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance feels really worth their time. Their playfulness is far better spent on the classical stuff; their interpretation of every young pianist’s bane, Für Elise, is absolutely side-splitting.

Their own compositions are impressive to varying degrees. Ziggurat, which attempts to evoke everyday sounds, is a bit too conceptual for its own good, but the titular Concerto Without Orchestra (a misnomer, as The Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra is actually playing via video link) is exciting and moving. There are slight delay issues to begin with, but it’s an interesting technological leap, expelling any doubt that we are in fact still in the 21st century.

Reviews by Larry Bartleet

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The Blurb

Worbey & Farrell are internationally acclaimed concert pianists with a wicked sense of humour. They have played with the world's leading symphony orchestras, achieved over a million hits on YouTube, and entertained all over the globe with their barnstorming blend of sparky comedy and utterly sensational piano playing. They’ll astound you by pushing the boundaries of their instrument, using it in unconventional ways to mimic the sound of a full symphony orchestra!

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