Last Friday evening Congcong Chai from China, winner of numerous competitions here and abroad, performed the first piano recital in the FHSU International Piano Festival. He played a challenging, yet rewarding program flawlessly.
Three pieces by Frederick Chopin comprised the first half of the program. The first, “Fantaisie in F minor, Opus 49,” bends classical forms of composition and is, in this sense, a product of the Romantic era. At the same time, though, it goes beyond Romanticism in exploring the virtually unlimited artistic and technical possibilities afforded by the piano. “Two Nocturnes, Opus 27” followed. These contrast with each other — the first is agitated and occasionally dissonant, the second like a love song (Wikipedia mentions that it is played in the James Bond movie, “The Spy who loved me”).
The “Ballade No. 3 in A flat Major, Op. 47” concluded the Chopin compositions with a flourish.
Chai dedicated the program’s second half to works by Sergei Rachmaninoff, who was strongly influenced by Chopin in his choice of forms and textures, even though his music sounds very different, on the whole heavier and darker than Chopin’s characteristic delicate filigrees and arpeggios. He began with three of the 10 “Preludes Op. 23” (Chopin practically invented the short prelude), all of which are relatively short, but explore the limits of what is technically possible to perform.
As if that were not enough, Chai concluded the recital with Rachmaninoff’s notoriously difficult “Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 36.” He received an ovation. We all hope he soon will pay another visit to Hays.
When the second recitalist, Benjamin Dominquez of Pennsylvania, is famous, everyone who was present at his performance Monday evening can brag about how we knew him “when.” Dominquez, a superb musician, is still an undergraduate student at KU. While Chai had chosen less familiar works by important composers, Dominquez dared to perform standards of the literature. And he more than met the challenge — his recital was a joy from beginning to end. J. S. Bach’s “Prelude and Fugue in B-flat minor” from Book I of the epoch-making “Well-tempered Clavier,” served as a preliminary to a brilliant performance of “Sonata No. 21 in C Major, Opus 53 (Waldstein), one of Beethoven’s best-known sonatas.
After a brief intermission, Dominquez concluded with “Symphonic Etudes, Opus 13” by Robert Schumann. Like other pieces performed in this series, the “Etudes” explore new possibilities of sound and color — “the keyboard becomes an orchestra” (Wikipedia). And Dominquez proved to be an outstanding conductor — the audience persuaded him to play an encore.
Plenty of thrills are yet to come in the festival. Come and experience them for yourselves when Teng Fu plays at 7:30 p.m. today.
Ruth Firestone is a frequent contributor to The Hays Daily News.