The long-awaited première performance at Sechelt's Raven's Cry Theatre by one of Canada's most widely acclaimed pianists, Angela Cheng, was a spellbinding experience.
Her deftly-spun, incredibly challenging program presented Sunday, Oct. 24, by the Coast Recital Society, focused upon both sentimental and powerhouse works by composers prominent in epic piano masterpieces, ranging from Franz Josef Haydn to romanticist Frederic Chopin and firebrand Serge Prokofiev, a span of over 200 years of superb music creation. For Sunday's opening selection, Cheng effectively displayed the variety in mood, texture and rhythm characteristic of the boldness and sense of innovation Haydn brought to his 60 piano sonatas through to the scherzo-like Allegro Molto movement of the Sonata no. 60 in C major Hoboken XVI:50. Clarity, exemplary phrasing and an energy-charged command of the keyboard were foremost. Cheng then presented a stirring rendition of Prokofiev's youthful, percussive and dissonant Sonata no. 2 Opus 14 in d minor concluding with a florid finale, a tarantella Vivace that one impressionable music critic likened to the charge of a herd of mammoths across an Asian plain. Following intermission, she offered three of Frederic Chopin's most popular compositions, commencing with the Polonaise-Fantaisie Opus 61, with remarkable finger work. Of particular note was the galloping coda in A flat, the moments of indulgence (her impressive quadruple trill) and of passion (the fervent final restatement of the themes) making this work all the more effective and treasured. She then turned to the First Ballade Opus 23 composed at the time the highly charged Romantic era composer had just learned of the fall of Warsaw in the course of Russia's conquest of his beloved Poland. Chopin's anger and despair were aptly demonstrated in the earlier measures of this work, which begins in deepest melancholy and builds to heights of incoherent passion, echoed admirably by Cheng, as was the beautiful melody around which the longer second section was built. Then followed the Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Op, 22. The pianist's skills showcased the tranquil Andante, a virtual perpetuum mobile with a flowing left hand accompaniment, giving colour and adding strong support to an essentially single-note theme. The stirring one-of-a-kind Polonaise called for superb musicianship, and Cheng met the challenge with her assured handling of the many truly lyrical passages. The closing notes of this masterpiece brought her appreciative capacity audience to their feet as one. Angela presented as her encore Chopin's single-note cantilena, Nocturne Op. 9, no.2.