A revised program offers worthy moments at Frost Chopin Festival

By Lawrence Budmen

Dang Thai Son performed at the Frost Chopin Festival Friday night at Gusman Concert Hall: Photo: Redi Llupa/FCF

“There is good news and bad news,” Frost Chopin Festival director Kevin Kenner told the audience following intermission on Friday night at the University of Miami’s Gusman Concert Hall.

The bad news was that the evening’s featured artist Dang Thai Son had an injured finger. The good news, Kenner related, was that Son would play despite the impairment, albeit in an abbreviated program. Kenner and fellow faculty member Katarzyna Popowa-Zydron helped fill out the musical roster.

First, three academy students took the stage. Yuka Tsunemoto, 22, from Japan, played Chopin’s Nocturne in B Major, Op. 62, no. 1, and American-born Kevin Knowles, 25 and a doctoral candidate this fall at the UM Frost School of Music, offered the Barcarolle, Op. 60. Both played with accuracy and firm technique.

Erica Do, 20, from South Korea, embodied the true Chopin spirit with a blazing rendition of the initial two movements from the Sonata in B-flat minor, Op. 35. She delineated the drama of the first movement, attacking the rapid passages with agility while allowing space for the contrasting second subject to sing. Do took the fistfuls of notes in the Scherzo at a whirlwind clip without sacrificing accuracy.

Kenner opened the partially improvised second half with Chopin’s Four Mazurkas, Op. 41. His innate feeling for the idiom and sense of musical taste and proportion make his Chopin performances a pleasure to hear. His version of the Mazurka No. 1 in C minor was sweeping, and the initial introspection of the Mazurka No. 4 in A-flat Major turned grandiose in scope. Kenner’s dance-infused interpretation of the two central mazurkas delighted the ear.

Katarzyna Popowa-Zydron is a respected teacher at music schools in Poland and has conducted masterclasses widely in Europe as well as at the annual Frost Festival. She has been a frequent juror at Warsaw’s International Chopin Competition.

Despite a glitch in her mechanical music score which necessitated her briefly stopping the performance. Popowa-Zydron exhibited exemplary romantic stylishness. She brought out the darker vibrations beneath the elegant surface of the Nocturne in G minor, Op. 15, no. 3. The figurations rippled beneath her fingers in a beautifully contoured reading of the Nocturne in G Major, Op. 37, no. 2.

The Vietnamese-Canadian pianist Dang Thai Son was the gold medal winner at the 1980 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. He has been an influential teacher—Bruce Liu, the most recent top prize winner of the Warsaw Competition, was among his pupils.

With his right little finger bandaged, he still managed to play with dexterity but avoided performing more virtuosic works (like the originally scheduled Rondo a la Mazurka).

Son opened with two rarely heard pieces by Gabriel Fauré. He skillfully rendered the shifting moods of the Nocturne in E-flat minor, Op. 33, n0. 1, and highlighted the nostalgic yearning and haunting central episode of the Barcarolle in A, Op. 26, no. 1. Son displayed admirable affinity for the music’s Gallic allure.

Turning to Chopin, Son assayed the infrequently played Three Ecossaises in breezy fashion, his airy touch registering the vignettes’ charm. A limpid Waltz in F minor, Op. 72, no. 3, found Son giving full rein to the sadness under the bright surface.

The Waltz in A minor, op. posthumous, pours forth in one of those indelible thematic outbursts that defines Chopin. With a deliberate but well considered flowing pulse, Son sensitively embellished the memorable principal melody.

As an encore of sorts, Kenner and Popowa-Zydron joined Son at the keyboard for Rachmaninoff’s Romance. It was obvious that the three artists were enjoying each other’s company and musicianship, forming a nice coda to an evening that brought to vivid life the old adage ”the show must go on.”

The Frost Chopin Festival presents Shelly Berg playing original, arranged and improvised music and Chopin Academy students Jiana Peng, Athena Deng and Eric Gun playing works by Chopin  7:30 p.m. Saturday at the UM Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables.

The festival concludes with a Salon Concert featuring festival faculty and students and flutist Dmytro Gnativ and tenor Minghao Liu  4 p.m. Sunday. frostchopinfestival.com.

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Sat Jul 1, 2023
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