The Bugallo-Williams Piano Duo [Amy Williams] [Helena Bugallo]

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CONCERT REVIEWS

"Very impressive was the performance of the Bugallo-Williams Piano Duo. Cage’s Three Dances turned into a fascinating work of sound: the colors and percussive sounds of the prepared pianos achieved in their speedy hands an overwhelming effect."
—Markus Dippold, Stuttgarter Zeitung (2009)

"The Bugallo-Williams Piano Duo opened the proceedings [of the 2007 Ojai Festival] with a dazzling recital…. Man and machine and nature all interacted in the Thursday duo piano recital of Helena Bugallo and Amy Williams. Stravinsky's two-piano versions of his Septet and his "Dumbarton Oaks" Concerto began the evening with great glitter."
—Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times (2007)

"The women's digital and physical virtuosity was nothing short of jaw-dropping as they managed to surmount all the technical hurdles and put across a graceful communicative musical performance that stands as one of the most thrilling feats of musical virtuosity heard this year."
—Lawrence A. Johnson, Miami Herald (2007)

"The performance was impeccable; they put into total evidence a superior technique, a moving spiritual blending, and a refinement characteristic of two great artists."
—Juan Carlos Montero, La Nación (Argentina) (2006)

"Helena Bugallo and Amy Williams tackled [Vic Hoyland's "The Attraction of Opposites"] with total conviction and a seemingly limitless tonal palette. Whether clattering like xylophones, exchanging muted chords or rising to the brilliant coup-de-theatre with which Hoyland closes his first movement, they gave what must have been the premiere of any composer's dreams."
—Richard Bratby, The Birmingham Post (UK) (2006)

"Something felt very right on Thursday’s opening-night appearance of the remarkable Bugallo-Williams Piano Duo, delivering what was probably the highlight of this [Ojai] festival.... The evening’s chief fascination came with their daring, four-hands arrangements of the legendary studies by the iconoclastic great American composer Conlon Nancarrow.... Bugallo-Williams chose 13 of the Studies that were humanly possible to play, and the experience of hearing this music played by human hands, and on a richly resonant Steinway instead of Mr. Nancarrow’s thinner-sounding instrument, proved a revelation.... One suspects it would thrill the composer.... They dived in with similar devotion and focused intensity on [Stravinsky’s] The Rite of Spring, certainly one of the most compelling piano pieces of the 20th century, in addition to its orchestral version. In some way, the piano version has an effect more lucid and integrated, and it packs considerable punch, especially when played with the kind of insight and visceral paw the duo brought to the score."
—Josef Woodard, Santa Barbara News Press (2005)

"[Nancarrow wrote] fantastic pieces that soared beyond what human hands could do in range, rhythms and technique. The Bugallo-Williams Duo met that challenge, going where a single pair of hands could not in a series of Nancarrow's studies transcribed for duo pianists. The result is not a stunt but a revelation. Bugallo and Williams, who alternated on opposite ends of the keyboard throughout the night, play with a matching sensibility and skill that enables them to produce a sound that magically seems to flow from a single pair of hands and a single artistic soul."
—Rita Moran, Ventura County Star (2005)

"The program was fascinating; the playing was beyond brilliant."
—Michelle Dulak Thomson, San Francisco Classical Voice (2005)

"The Bugallo-Williams Piano Duo opened its concert with the London premiere of [Nancarrow’s Player Piano] Studies.... It turned out to be a magic event to listen to those sometimes romantic or jazzy, abrupt or wild, but always deeply original pieces full of wit and surprises. The two ladies understood it perfectly, to bring the mechanical element to light but with incredible charm and a furioso technique. The organisation alone, who had to turn the page at the right moment, was flabbergasting.... György Ligeti wrote his remarkable 'Three Pieces for Two Pianos' in 1976, a gigantic composition, which reinvents many influences in a very personal and convincing manner. Its technical demands on the players are enormous. But Helena Bugallo and Amy Williams showed no sign of being overstretched. They understood to create simultaneously tension and ease; they were constantly in harmony with the music and with each other without ever falling into bad habits like humiliating their instruments or showing off. They are both deeply rooted in the sadly more and more neglected tradition of exclusively recreating the composers intentions with taste and with an instinctive sensitivity for the art of piano playing."
—Hans-Theodor Wohlfahrt, Music on the Web (2003)

"Wolpe liked extremes, but he could also settle for less extreme extremes, as in the two-piano version of the Moses ballet ‘The Man From Midian,’ whose intensive fugal chases and moments of waiting were energetically put across by Helena Bugallo and Amy Williams.... Performances were thoroughly prepared and strongly, passionately projected. Wolpe's looping continuities were found, as were his playfulness, his fantasy and his anger."
—Paul Griffiths, The New York Times (2002)

CD REVIEWS



VARÈSE/FELDMAN
(Wergo, 2009)

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available at Wergo and Amazon

"...the pedal-overtoned “Five Pianos”...magically concludes the wonderful new disc by the Buffalo-formed Bugallo-Williams piano duo and their keyboard friends. The true star of the program, though, is Varèse’s 1920 “Ameriques” which, in gigantic orchestra form, is one of the most magnificent and savage masterworks in all of modern music. In Varèse’s own two-piano transcription discovered in 2004, it is an entirely different piece—jagged and of daunting difficulty but of the sort that Helena Bugallo and Amy Williams routinely attempt with neither hubris or difficulty but rather total nonchalance. A beautifully played and programmed disc—and with, by the way, fine program notes from the German Reiner Peters."
—Jeff Simon, Buffalo News (2009)

***** (five stars) "Morton Feldman once said of Edgard Varèse, “It is not his music, his ‘style’ that I imitate; it is his stance, his way of living in the world.” The two composers’ stances had very different outcomes, Varèse (1883-1965) gloried in the liberation of loud sounds; Feldman (1926-87) was a whisperer. Even for Varèse, his own reduction of the blazing, battling 140ong orchestra of Amériques to eight hands on two pianos might seem extreme. But the blanching of colour through the restriction to piano tone leads to an almost paradoxical intensification of parts of the music. Feldman’s pieces for four and five pianos are not so much about volume or weight as about soft spatialisation."

—Michael Dervan, Irish Times (2009)

Piece for Four Pianos (1957) from the free-notation period and Five Pianos (1972) leading to Feldman's late work— stand by the highly interesting transcription of Varèse's orchestral work Amériques, which in this form highlights the remarkable motivic fabric of the piece. The CD is a pleasure from beginning to end!"

—Reinhard Schulz, neue musikzeitung (2009)

STRAVINSKY IN BLACK AND WHITE (Wergo, 2007)

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"...a triumphant record, one of the year's best and most inspiring in any genre."
—Josef Woodard, Santa Barbara Independent (2007)

"The polished rhythmic harshness of Stravinsky’s musical language manifests itself in this interpretation in a brilliant manner.... Helena Bugallo and Amy Williams indeed utilize a phenomenal pedal technique by means of which they achieve sound-color effects rarely heard from pianists. With this sophisticated technique, the two musicians control perfectly the architecture of the sound masses while allowing the recognition of the characteristic nervous-feverish pulse typical of Stravinsky, even in the calmer passages. One must speak of the closest possible approximation to the instrumental versions, which is in this case the greatest possible compliment."
—Annette Eckerle, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (2007)

"The two pianists...show seemingly limitless capabilities here as they make their way—I want to say romp—through four-hand arrangements of "The Rite of Spring" and two-piano arrangements of "Dumbarton Oaks" and other Stravinsky masterpieces. Listening to them, a listener might wonder why the creative process hadn't ended there—that's how exciting this music sounds on piano. The bracing harmonies and angular melody lines emerge sharp and clear. Brimming with technical derring-do, Amy Williams and Helena Bugallo play with crisp clarity and occasional tenderness, too. Not to mention endless energy. The most admirable aspect of their artistry is that, though the challenge must have been enormous, they manage to sound as if they're having fun."
—Mary Kunz Goldman, Buffalo News (2007)

"To play these works is a challenge with only two possible outcomes: to gracefully live up to it, like our pianists do, or to die trying. They survive with brilliance and we continue to be most thankful for it."
—Blas Matamoro, Diverdi (Spain) (2007)

"...the Duo's latest release, Stravinsky in Black and White, is every bit as exciting as the Nancarrow disc....beautifully played, originally conceived and superbly recorded.... Highly recommended."
—Jan Jezioro, ArtVoice (2007)

"The two-piano Dumbarton Oaks is charming and gripping, and the familiar piano-duet Rite of Spring is brought off with delirious precision."
—Paul Driver, The Sunday Times (2007)

"I became addicted to one of the finest Stravinsky recordings in years, Stravinsky in Black and White. Subtitled "Arrangements for Piano Duet and Two Pianos by the Composer," the recording features the duo of Helena Bugallo and Amy Williams storming through The Rite of Spring, the spiky Movements (my favorite track), and other works with Stravinskyan sass."
—Christopher DeLaurenti, The Stranger (2007)

CONLON NANCARROW: STUDIES AND SOLOS (Wergo, 2004)

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available at Wergo and Amazon

"This is an important release that belongs in the collection of anybody who’s serious about the American experimental tradition or about the 20th Century piano repertoire.... It’s really, really, really well played. The rhythmic accuracy and vigor Helena Bugallo and Amy Williams display in these fiendishly difficult pieces almost make me wonder if these so-called duo pianists aren’t in fact a single creature, the mutant four-armed triumph of a secret genetic-engineering program. This is a sensational recording debut for the Bugallo-Williams duo.... I can’t wait to find out what’s next."
—Ian Quinn, American Record Guide (2005)

"These pianists are stunning.... Don’t listen to this CD straight through, however. Your mouth may get locked in place—wide open."
—Paul Rapport, Fanfare (2005)

"… A captivating new CD by these two young women — Helena Bugallo and Amy Williams — warmly humanizing the player-piano music of Conlon Nancarrow."

—Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times (2005)

"Some of the transcriptions are basically wrong-footing fun, such as studies Nos. 3b, 3c, and 3d ... which sound like Art Tatum and Earl Hines (audible influences on the early Nancarrow) very much out of joint.... For the closing Sonatina (c. 1945), Bugallo and Williams again display superhuman control in its conflicting rhythms, while also managing to realise the humor of the music.... The results are exhilarating."

—Martin Anderson, International Piano UK (2005)

"This record by Wergo is especially interesting because of the formidable musicality of the group and the excellent production, whose sound is ideal to capture new aspects in the music of this extraordinarily original, yet not enough promoted composer. The record achieves something that until now has seemed impossible: it creates the proper atmosphere for the lay listener, inviting the entrance in a sonic world which, only because of the strange and sometimes aggressive timbre of the pianola, may draw people away. The CD provides in fact a magnificent chance to discover Nancarrow’s music."

—Francisco Ramos, Scherzo (2005)

"Nancarrow was mainly skeptical about subsequent transcriptions of his pieces for player piano, but maybe he would have changed his mind (or never perforated his piano rolls...?) would he have known such striking musicians as the Bugallo-Williams Piano Duo… They play with enormous freshness and precision.... All the musicality that Nancarrow stamped into the machine reveals itself in the liveliness of the pianists’ interpretation."
—Dirk Wieschollek, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (2005)

"Listening to, say, Study for Player Piano 3B, with its biting but iridescent bluesy complexity, you start to feel this kind of music is what the piano duo medium was invented for."

—Paul Driver, The Sunday Times (2004)

"Wisely, Bugallo and Williams have not attempted to imitate the specific attack and sonority of Nancarrow’s machines, which were modified with metal and leather to give a very sharp attack with a soft resonance and rapid decay. These performances are much more conventionally pianistic, which perhaps makes them more immediately listenable and in doing so opens up their complex language."
—Brian Morton, The Wire (2004)

"Bugallo and Williams discover new, poetic possibilities of expression that go beyond the abstract rhythmic and polyphonic procedures [of Nancarrow's 'Studies for Player Piano']... The fact that this extraordinarily exciting and charming music has attracted flesh and blood interpreters is not surprising.... In this case, Helena Bugallo and Amy Williams have accomplished the difficult task with bravura."
—Georg Henkel, Musik an sich (2004)

"Brilliant ‘live’ performances of Nancarrow’s crazy counterpoint… I checked Study 19 against the player-piano notation and was hardly able to follow the score let alone contemplate playing such alarming complex rhythms! …the results are simply stunning…. The studies work just as well with live pianists as with the twangly sound of Nancarrow’s own player-pianos…. Well recorded and really attractive in every way."

—Peter Dickinson, Gramophone (2004)

JORGE LIDERMAN: WIND-UP TOYS (Albany Records, 2005)

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available at Albany and Amazon

"The title piece, a piano duo lasting nearly half an hour, is a tour de force of large-scale integration, and it gets a powerhouse rendition from the Bugallo-Williams Piano Duo."

—Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle (2006)

"[They] play the living hell out of it."

—Allen Gimbel, American Record Guide (2006)

"The Bugallo-Williams Piano Duo...has turned into one of the most interesting contemporary piano duos around, with an extraordinary repertoire that ranges from live recordings of demonically difficult Nancarrow music for player piano to the title composition of this recording [Jorge Liderman's "Wind-Up Toys"], which is a 2003 piece that might be described as "impressionistic post-minimalism"."

—Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News (2005)