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RECITAL REVIEW
Ukiah Community Concert Association / Sunday, October 3, 2010
Gwhyneth Chan, piano

Pianist Gwhyneth Chen in Ukiah

VOLCANIC TRANSCRIPTIONS AND DELIBERATE NOCTURNES HIGHLIGHT UKIAH RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 3, 2010

An appreciative audience greeted Gwhyneth Chen Oct. 3 when the pianist launched the Ukiah Community Concerts Associationís new season. And the artistís mood, mostly lyrical and relaxed, seemed to match that of the audience of 225 that crowded the New Life Community Church.

The program contained five Chopin Nocturnes, including the E-Flat as an encore, and in the initial Op. 32 works a recital-long pattern emerged. Ms. Chen possesses a lovely touch, deft control of cantilena, variation in the repeated sections, crystalline scale playing and trills that are even and subtle. However, the tempos throughout the concert were deliberate, which mostly worked and occasionally did not. In the mid section of the Op. 32, No. 2, she was able to keep the melodic line going in the outer fingers while playing accompanying chords in the same hand. The last big repeat was played piano, the effect lovely and benefiting from a studied voice leading.

Chopinís Fourth Scherzo in E, Op. 54, followed and again was a case study in lovely scale playing, dropped notes in the coda notwithstanding. It was a slow and dreamy conception of a joyous work, lacking perhaps only the last bit of drama. The lyrical mid section in C Sharp was a delicate waltz, half pedaled.

The first half concluded with the Schulz-Evler transcription of Straussí Blue Danube, a recital showpiece made famous by the incomparable Lhevinne recording of 1930, and by Boletís Carnegie Hall recital record of 1974. There is some controversy that the mysterious Schulz-Evler didnít write the work at all, and Moszkowski did. In any case, here the three-note introduction was played ever so slowly but raised the anticipation level for the entrance of the immortal Viennese theme. Ms. Chenís tonal palate became strident when she pushed the sound, lacking the color of the Nocturnes, but itís that kind of piece. In the powerful final upward run, the pianist took the brief ďhiccupĒ in the middle, as does Lhevinne but not Bolet.

Two Chopin Nocturnes from Op. 37 opened the second half, again ones not often played. The legato playing in the choral-like passages of the G Minor was elegant, some I think played with the sostenuto pedal. The G Major work, from 1839, became a captivating barcarolle in Ms. Chenís hands, with a rocking bass and rich hues in the treble. The Associationís piano, with a new action, had substantial sustain in the treble and Ms. Chen made full use of the tonal ďbloom,Ē quiet notes reaching easily to the far back of the spacious hall. On balance, her slow tempos derailed the long line and the music began to wander, though it was a conception in every way to admire.

An early Chopin work, the Op. 2 ďLa Ci Darem La ManoĒ Variations, came next and though not a profound work from the Polish master, was good to hear in concert. The filigree playing was estimable, interrupted by dramatic sforzandos and Ms. Chenís remarkable scales in both hands. The big four march-like bridge passes lent structure to this sprawling composition. It was Chopinís Paris calling card and a favorite for the Ukiah audience.

Vladimir Horowitzí Carmen Variations closed the concert with an aural cascade of notes at high volume and speed, handled well by Ms. Chen. Composed originally in the 1920s and altered over the years, the work takes a gypsy dance from Bizetís last opera and contains a large array of virtuoso technical demands, including the diabolical interlocking octaves in the coda. It was brought off with panache and insouciance, rolling to a powerful ending and a standing ovation.

The one encore, Chopinís Op. 9, No. 2 Nocturne, was played with consummate grace, lush colors and at a languorous tempo.