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  Joan Ryall and June Clark in Concert  
This LP was made in 1967 at the height of the duo’s fame. It was recorded at a live performance in the City Hall, St.Albans. As with all live performances there is no re-recording or erasing of extraneous noises and so there is audience participation in the form of some applause, creaks, and coughing (in the last item!). This is just as it comes! But it all adds to the sense of occasion which today is often lacking in the sterile studio mastered CD.

There are only a limited number of these LP recordings available, but later there will be a new CD remastering of the concert.

Herts Advertiser, Nicolas Cranley’s Music Diary (1980)
Finally, no survey would be complete without mentioning the resurrection of the superb piano team, June Clark and Joan Ryall. I knew them by reputation last year, though for some reason I had missed them perform…and was only able to hear a snatch of one evening. But both that and the record that they brought out was a revelation – I have rarely heard music for two pianos played with such fire and precision.’
Joan Ryall
June Clark
BBC Recording 'Ivory Magic'
Joan Ryall and June Clark studied at the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music respectively, and latterly together with the late Cyril Smith, one of England’s finest soloists, and duo pianist with his wife Phyllis Sellick. June and Joan made their debut as a piano duo at Bayreuth in Germany, during the famous Wagner Festival in 1958, and began broadcasting for the BBC in 1960.

They have broadcast extensively for the BBC, their programmes on the Overseas Service being relayed to America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, the Mediterranean countries and South East Asia. They gave numerous performances in London, the Provinces, Germany and Holland, and in 1967 their career was capped by winning the First Prize in the International Competition for Interpreters of Contemporary Music in Utrecht and Amsterdam, playing amongst other contemporary works the Stravinsky Concerto, and also winning a further prize for the best performance of a contemporary Dutch work by Louis Andriessen.

Some highlights of their long career included the London revival of the Concerto for two pianos by the Master of the Queen’s Music, Sir Arthur Bliss, with the composer himself directing, the Fiftieth Birthday Tribute on the BBC to Benjamin Britten, playing his works for two pianos, and sharing a BBC broadcast with the famous Amadeus Quartet, when two of their members turned the pages for the piano duo!

Some of the many press quotes and letters:

Frankische Press, Bayreuth (1958):
‘…this duo’s debut performances (of works by Poulenc and June Clark) were impressive’

Bayreuther Tagblatt (1958):
…(The Poulenc) was played with masterly precision’

Personal letter from the Daily Telegraph critic, Deryck Cooke, after a ‘Music at Night’ broadcast of the Brahms F minor Sonata: (1962)
‘…a truly wonderful performance of the Brahms….it takes terrific rhythmic power and emotional concentration to bring out all the virility of the music – I never expected to hear it come straight across like that! It was a really thrilling experience!
Ruth Gipps (conductor of the One Rehearsal Orchestra, St.Pancras Journal London(1962)
‘…a beautifully matched two-piano partnership who were trained by Cyril Smith. They made a great impression on me when they rehearsed with the O.R.O. and my respect for their interpretative powers was increased when I heard their fine broadcast performance of the Brahms F minor Sonata’.

Sir Arthur Bliss (composer) (1962):
‘With very many thanks to June Clark and Joan Ryall for their fine playing in my Concerto, from the composer.’

After the performance of the Bliss Concerto for Two Pianos in London ‘The Times’:
‘unquestioning vitality – brilliance – skilful playing.’

Cheltenham Festival, Birmingham Post (1963):
‘Today’s Lunchtime Recital was a brilliant affair: Bach’s C major Concerto, Britten’s Two Pieces and Stravinsky’s Concerto for two solo pianos. Joan Ryall and June Clark are a partnership virtually unfaultable. The performance of the Stravinsky was just about in the Gold-Fizdale class of the composer’s authorised gramophone record – almost as dazzlingly brilliant, and at some points more tellingly phrased. Britten’s ‘Introduction and Rondo alla Burlesca’ and ‘Mazurka Elegiaca’ were both put over with tremendous ‘élan’.

St.Albans Recital, Herts Advertiser (1965):
‘The strength of this duo lies not only in the technical excellence of both players, but also in a complete fusion of musical intention. Brilliant highlights of an evening in which brilliance was almost commonplace ended with the final tour de force, the Lutoslawski Variations. This demonstrated without a shadow of doubt that Joan Ryall and June Clark are in the front rank of piano duos.’

Melton Mowbray ‘Three arts Club’ (1966):
‘…the culmination of the great technical dexterity, accuracy and speed of these two pianists…masterly performance…’

Utrecht’s Niewsblad, translation of fifth round report (1967):
This two-piano duo performed with distinguished quality of tone, superior control and great authority… The Concerto for Two Solo Pianos by Stravinsky was given a joyous and energetic interpretation, playful yet cool and elegant in stature, and with extraordinary virtuosity. The unbelievable affinity between the two artists and their perfect rhythmic playing, without doubt, did much to influence the decision of the jury.’ (Awarded the First Prize)

Letter from the composer, Peter Racine Fricker (1967):
‘A cutting from the Radio Times informed me that you played my two piano Fughettas a short time ago. Very many thanks! I seem to remember that you had won the International Performers Competition in Utrecht. If true, then congratulations – I know how fierce the competition is there because I was one of the judges about three years ago.’

Atkinson Gallery Southport recital, Liverpool Daily Post (1969):
‘Miss Ryall and Miss Clark have achieved remarkable precision, yet there is nothing mechanical about their playing. Complete unanimity of expression and the closest attention to detail are other characteristics and they treat the sustaining pedal with restraint and respect. A delightful recital- my only complaint is that it was not twice as long!’

Southport Visitor (1969):
‘Undoubtedly one of the most gifted duos at present in Britain …of world beating class…their capability in bringing the best out of the most difficult piano duos was fully evident… a recital of such high artistry.’

Ashford Music Club recital, Kentish Express (1969):
‘Joan Ryall and June Clark played throughout with polish and sensitivity… especially effective in quieter passages where their timing and phrasing were very good. (They then) took wing and made a very fine job indeed of the Rachmaninov Second Suite…and a well chosen encore (Walton’s Popular Song from Façade) showed how adept and witty their playing could be.’

Kent Messenger (1969):
‘…a sense of rhythm and tonal balance … a knack of imperceptible communication that the two players have developed…flawless ensemble…technical facility displayed to greatest effect in the most brilliant parts of Milhaud’s ‘Scaramouche Suite’ and Rachmaninov’s Suite. This most extended and pianistic work called for interpretative skill and musicianship. The relaxed style of the Walton gave the programme a touch of humour’.

In 1970 the duo retired from the public platform for almost a decade due to family commitments and raising of offspring, but made a welcome comeback in 1979.

Herts Advertiser, Nicolas Cranley’s Music Diary (1980)
Finally, no survey would be complete without mentioning the resurrection of the superb piano team, June Clark and Joan Ryall. I knew them by reputation last year, though for some reason I had missed them perform…and was only able to hear a snatch of one evening. But both that and the record that they brought out was a revelation – I have rarely heard music for two pianos played with such fire and precision.’

After a further ten years of playing together the duo came to an abrupt end in 1990 with the accidental death of Joan Ryall, so this LP recording is a unique commemoration of a long duo partnership. There are however many taped recordings in the archives of this duo, which are intended to be remastered and issued on CDs. So watch this space for updates!

  Duo Pianism  
For those who have never heard music for two pianos, a word of introduction is, perhaps, expedient. With the exception of three pieces on this record, all the works were originally written for two keyboards. Although the art of writing for two keyboards is an old one, duo-pianism today tends to be somewhat neglected and misrepresented. What then constitutes a good duo? It is not sufficient to bring together for specific occasions two excellent solo pianists and hope that the result will be a successful duo. It is necessary to have not only two pianists of equal technical ability, but also the ‘sameness’ of thinking – a telepathy, an affinity which, over the years of working together, results in the performers playing and thinking ‘as one’.

The difference between playing ‘Four Hands at One Piano’ (usually referred to as Piano Duet) and ‘Four Hands at Two Pianos’ (usually referred to as ‘Two-piano Duo’) is very different. The fact that two pianists are playing together is the only link. There the similarity ends. The obvious difference is the fact that instead of sharing one keyboard and being limited for the most part to either the bass or treble areas, with a shared sustaining pedal, each pianist now has the whole range of an entire keyboard and sustaining pedal. This means that the resonance of two ‘wedded’ grand pianos (that is with the two curved sides interlocked) can intermingle, giving a greater richness and body of sound, if used efficiently. This should not be interpreted as twice the volume, as there is nothing worse than multiple pianos all playing the same notes at the same volume. Because of the intricate variations of tuning, each instrument having its own unique quality, the doubling of same notes is never effective and just serves to show up these diversities. The real essence of two instruments played as a duo is that the harmonics (overtones) are enhanced by the sustaining pedal mechanisms of both. You can try an experiment for yourself, if you have two pianos in close proximity. Hold down the sustaining pedal of Piano 1 whilst you (or someone else) play a staccato chord quite loudly on Piano 2 and you will hear Piano 1 picking up the sympathetic vibrations in a disembodied sound. This illustrates how the two pianos respond to each other and how the resonance is enhanced.

Thus Two-Piano playing opens up new horizons never experienced in the Piano Duet field. This is not to denigrate the ‘Four Hands at One Piano’ genre, but merely to illustrate the differences. Each is its own medium, and has its own delights and problems.

One obvious delight of the One Piano situation is that the close proximity of the players makes communication between them easy – they can even talk to each other whilst playing – not to mention the physical closeness. Composers of the past have used this as a means of furthering arduous intentions between man and his loved one. One of the drawbacks is often the skirmishes over keyboard territory, for after all each performer only gets a half of the keyboard, and sometimes not even that much! This can even translate into an actual note that composers have unwittingly perhaps fondly required both pianists to play at the same time!

The Two Piano situation is entirely different. If the two grand pianos are ‘wedded’ then the physical distance between the players can be as much as ten feet or more, making communication only possible by head or facial expressions, particularly the eyes and eyebrows. Other than that it is a case of telepathy, knowing what the other partner is going to do before they do it, and allowing the freedom of such to produce a spontaneous performance. Other problems are of balance between the two instruments, as now both pianists have an entire keyboard each upon which to demonstrate their prowess. In the One Piano situation it is more often than not just the balance between the bass and the treble, but with Two Pianos there is much more at stake, as the performers’ right hands (and left hands) are competing for the same area of keyboard. Much shading and sketching in of unimportant notes is necessary, just as in the solo piano performance one is always searching for ‘the tune’ and fading out the accompaniment.

But this is all part of the wonderful experience of such an art, Duo Pianism, totally unique in the world of performing.

June Clark

Debut Steingraber Saal, Bayreuth 1958
Royal Festival Hall 1982
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