Chelsea Guo displays double-barreled versatility at Miami Piano Festival

By Lawrence Budmen

Chelsea Guo performed as both pianist and soprano in her recital for the Miami International Piano Festival Sunday in Aventura.

Chelsea Guo is a musical double threat. A formidable pianist as well as a gifted lyric soprano, Guo’s recital for the Miami International Piano Festival Sunday afternoon at the Aventura Art and Culture Center impressively displayed her multiple talents.

In 2020, Guo shared the fourth prize at the American Chopin Competition in Miami. Her bracing performance of Chopin’s Concerto No. 2 at the competition’s final round left many in the audience (including this writer) feeling she deserved a higher ranking. 

The depth of musical sensibility that Guo displayed on that occasion was confirmed by the first half of her recital. With a firm pianistic technique, she combined elegance, poetry and passion in perfect proportion.

Brahms’ Variations on An Original Theme was a bold choice for an opener. This rarely heard work, despite its early opus number, radiates an autumnal glow. With the exception of one variation, the score is restrained and soft, bereft of flashy bravura. Guo displayed a fine sense of the music’s broader structure and each variation flowed organically into the next. She also had a full measure of the work’s lyricism. With a svelte touch and pearly tone, her leisurely approach gave weight and space to the score’s darker subtext.

Clara Schumann’s Romances, Op. 21 are salon pieces. To her credit, Guo’s light, feathery conception did not attempt to find more profundity in the vignettes than exists. The Chopinesque figurations (in the manner of the “Minute Waltz”) of the final section were delivered with breezy verve and showmanship.

In three brief Rachmaninoff pieces, Guo gave a big-boned interpretation of “Melodye,”channeled the brooding Russian aura of “Elegie,” and captured the wit and playfulness of “Polchinelle.”

The program’s second half was devoted to art song and Guo’s considerable vocal gifts. She counts Jason Ferrante and Barbara Bonney among her teachers and mentors. She was accompanied discreetly in her song selections by Luis Urbana.

Guo processes a gorgeous lyric soprano without any break in the registers. She can spin a long line winningly and bring intense emotion to the text when called. Opera may be in her future.

Four Rachmaninoff songs evidenced Guo’s idiomatic affinity for Russian romance. She emphasized the sorrowful aura of “Oh, do not sing, my beauty,” where some initial harshness in her hig register was quickly brought under control. Her richly colored middle register took wing in “Spring Waters.” Guo conveyed the emotional sadness of “Lilacs” and brought out the passion of love and youth in “How Fair this Spot.” Her burnished sonority seems tailor-made for the operatic heroines of Puccini.

Guo’s top voice gleamed in two Brahms songs “Meine lebe ist grün” and “Wie Meloden.” The sincerity and sculptured poise of her singing matched the understatement of Brahms’ emotive paths.

Guo concluded the concert with Schumann’s song cycle Frauenliebe und Leben (A Woman’s Love and Life). Written in 1840, Schumann’s “year of song,” the work coincided with the composer finally getting permission, after prolonged litigation, to marry his beloved Clara Wieck. 

Guo may have been holding back earlier in the recital. Her voice took on a larger, greater size and beauty in Schumann’s lustrous portrait of a youthful dream of love, joy, happiness and, finally, despair at the death of a woman’s beloved.

She conveyed the girlish excitement of “Et, der Herrlichste von  Allen: (He, the most wonderful of all) “Süsser Freund” (Sweet friend), the most famous song in the cycle, found Guo singing ecstatically yet with dynamic control and vocal coloration supple and finely attuned. The final resignation of “Nun hast du mir mein arsten ersten Schmerz getan” (Now you have caused my first pain) was given quiet immediacy. Pianist Urbana nicely dovetailed his keyboard accompaniment to Guo’s pace and phrasing.

A lengthy ovation brought Guo back to the stage for a vivid final demonstration of her dual talents. Announcing that she did not want to conclude the concert with the tragedy of the final song, she sang Schumann’s radiant anthem of love for Clara “Widmung” (Dedication) while accompanying herself with Liszt’s piano transcription of the song. Her pianism was strong and exact while her voice sounded fresh and refulgent despite the lengthy program. Chelsea Guo is clearly an artist one wants to hear as both pianist and singer.

The Miami International Piano Festival presents Jacob Mason playing Bach’s Overture in the French Style, Brahms’ Study for left hand after Bach’s Chaconne, Dennis Kam’s Prelude No. 4, Tania Leon’s Tumbao, J.H. D’Angelevert’s Pascaille and Brahms’ 4 Klavierstücke  7:30 p.m. January 27 at the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach.


Posted in Performances

One Response to “Chelsea Guo displays double-barreled versatility at Miami Piano Festival”

  1. Posted Jan 08, 2024 at 4:01 pm by Carolina Zelikson

    Chelsea Guo is an incredible artist with remarkable talents both as a pianist and a singer. Her passion and beauty shine through in every performance, making it truly thrilling to listen to her.

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