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Concert review

Frost Chopin Festival closes with scintillating performances

Mon Jun 17, 2024 at 10:39 am

By Lawrence Budmen

Eric Guo performed Chopin’s Variations on “La ci darem la mano” at the closing concert of the Frost Chopin Festival Sunday night at Gusman Concert Hall. Photo: Shawn Clark

A stellar concerto performance by a competition winner and a solo turn by a gifted young pianist provided an exciting finale to this year’s iteration of the Frost Chopin Festival Sunday at the University of Miami’s Gusman Concert Hall. David Kim, concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, had dual roles as soloist and concertmaster-leader of the 18-member Chopin Festival Chamber Orchestra. An artful and subtle player, Kim excelled in both capacities.

Kim opened the program with Fritz Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro. With flawless intonation and precise articulation, Kim captured the score’s neo-Baroque spirit and exhibited an extra touch of bravura showmanship. From his first chair seat, Kim and his musicians, a cornucopia of top South Florida string players, gave the afternoon’s two keyboard soloists outstanding support. Nuanced and carefully dovetailing the soloists’ turns of phrase, the instrumental component proved both unobtrusive and flexible.

Concertmaster David Kim performed Fritz Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro Sunday night. Photo: Shawn Clark

Eric Guo, the 21-year-old top prize winner of the 2023 Chopin Competition on Historical Instruments in Warsaw, took the spotlight for Chopin’s Variations on “La ci darem la mano.” Despite the Mozart melody as its theme, this work is cast in a 19th century romantic idiom using the Don Giovanni-Zerlina duet. Guo fully communicated that distinctive Chopin spirit. The piano faced the orchestra with the lid removed but Guo still managed to project a wide palette of terraced dynamics. He brought rhythmic impetus and inflection to the initial statement of Mozart’s tune and displayed nimble dexterity through the wild flurry of notes in the initial variation.  Guo struck a dramatic and plaintive aura for the minor key episode, with bold flourishes, and the final polonaise resounded in a fleet, vibrant manner. A polished and expressive artist, Guo is clearly an idiomatic Chopin player.

William Ge performed Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 Sunday night. Photo: Shawn Clark

William Ge, the winner of the Frost festival’s concerto competition, was the solo protagonist in Chopin’s Concerto No. 1 in E minor. Ge, 17, is a student of Jonathan Bass at the New England Conservatory. 

His technique is formidable. Every note emerged clear and  transparent. Following the brooding intensity of the orchestral introduction, Ge’s playing initially seemed slightly cool but, as the first movement proceeded, he became more engaged and emotionally volatile. In the Larghetto, Ge’s shaping of the principal motif was graceful and fully attentive to the movement’s shifting moods. His brisk tempo for the concluding Rondo-Vivace was a shade too excitable and over the top but undeniably spirited. Ge brought a more relaxed and ruminative approach to the secondary subject.

A standing ovation and repeated curtain calls brought the young pianist back for an encore of Liszt’s transcription of Schumann’s song “Widmung.” Ge played with tonal strength, yet drew a singing line from the instrument. The entire program was a fine demonstration of the Chopin Festival’s astute combination of veteran players, competition recipients and promising talent.

Photo: Shawn Clark

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