Friday, February 21, 2014, was the first time that I had the pleasure of sitting in on a piano recital in Merrill Hall. It was a concert by Hye Jin Cho, a young lady from Korea, performing three extensive pieces of music for her graduate recital. I was fortunate enough to be present to watch this budding master at work. The pieces that she played were Joseph Haydn’s 52nd Sonata in E-Flat Major, Robert Schumann’s Opus 11 Sonata in F-Sharp Minor (my personal favorite! and Lowell Liebermann’s Gargoyles, Opus 29. As Hye Jin Cho ascended the stage, she bowed towards the audience in an introductory manner, sat down at the piano with a surprisingly hunched back, and began to play the opening of Haydn’s 52nd Sonata. Haydn’s Sonata in E-Flat Major, Hob. XVI: 52 (Written in 1794) As the recital commenced, Cho allowed her hands to fly across the keyboard with a quick tempo, evoking a sort of Tom and Jerry-esque image in my mind.
Of course, having already done my homework by reading up on the pieces which I was going to be privy to during the performance, I was well aware that this particular sonata of Haydn’s was written in a contredanse style, meaning that it was, in all likelihood, intended for ballroom dancing. I couldn’t quite imagine any aristocratic couple attempting to dance to the music, however, as the tempo was simply too quick for anyone to be able to move their feet about fast enough to keep pace with it! Playing in Allegro tempo, I was surprised to see Cho play the piece so effortlessly.
Although there were a few minor hiccups during part one of Haydn’s piece, in which Cho seemed to slam her feet down a little too hard on the grand piano’s pedals, hence causing odd loud clicks in time with her playing, she seemed to have everything else under control. Part one was played very cheerfully, and in a very upbeat “albeit irregular” manner, causing the energy in the room to be magnified in intensity. As Part 2 of the piece came around, however, and was played at an Adagio tempo, I was better able to envision the pairs dance to the music.
Cho displayed lots of emotion here, and the piece was filled with a lot more suspense as her fingers began veering towards the lower end of the keyboard, and she also began to hold down the keys for a quarter of a note longer than she did in part one. I could also detect quite a few keys being held down at once across several occasions. One small error was committed within this phase, as I feel that some of her notes were played a little too hurriedly “she should have held her keys down for two beats of four rather than one” but other than that, she played the piece well.
I could sense a conclusion arriving towards part 3 of Haydn’s piece, as she played in Presto. Although the piece assumed its quick tempo again, there were more definitive stops to the keys, and, as the piece ended, the last high note that was played hung in the air, and the audience clapped deservedly for Cho. Schumann’s Sonata in F-Sharp Minor, Opus 11 (Written in 1835) When I first found out that Cho was going to perform this piece, I was overjoyed.
I have been a fan of Schumann’s work since I first began listening to classical music, and, since the age of 7, this particular sonata has been tabbed as one of my favorite pieces from the romantic era. The piece consists of four distinct movements: Introduzione (played in Allegro vivace tempo), Aria, Scherzo e Intermezzo (Played in Allegrissimo tempo), and the Finale (played in Allegro un poco maestoso tempo). The movement begins with an introduction played with a brisk, lively tempo, although played on deeper, heavier, bass-filled notes, which then flow into a much more beautiful, heart-wrenching melody.
It was played with so much passion that I got goosebumps. Instantly, I could sense the audience sit up a little straighter in their chairs and lean forward, enraptured. As the next movement, Aria, came around, I could tell that this had to be a piece heavily influenced by some female counterpart of Schumann’s, as there was no way that so much magic, so much beauty, could be filled into a piece of music such as this sans love. There was such care with which Cho played the notes that I felt like she, too, was sharing a piece of herself while playing them.
As Scherzo e Intermezzo “the third movement” began to play, the notes became more playful, lighter, and happier. The song in its entirety began to seem more like a story being told, where, initially (in the first two movements), it felt like Schumann was talking about longing, and then finally, in this movement, he managed to get the girl he loved so much “and thus began a happier phase of his life. ” Played in forte and mezzo-forte, this movement caused an aura of happiness to resonate within the room. The Finale was the longest movement in Schumann’s piece.
It was filled with notes, again played in mezzo-forte, but, unlike in the third movement, the keys were played here in a very masterful, majestic manner. Towards the end of the finale, the notes dipped down to notes played with a “piano ? volume, and then moved back to brisker, happier notes played in forte. Cho didn’t seem to get anything wrong in playing Schumann’s piece, which led me to believe that she spent more time perfecting this piece than the other two, and I’m so glad that she did, because she did my favorite work of Schumann’s justice.
Liebermann’s first of four movements, Presto, begins on a sinister note, but then, quite suddenly, evolves into a very fast-paced performance. Cho worked the piece at a rapid pace, her hands practically jumping across the keyboard from the bass notes to treble notes, and I felt like I didn’t know what had hit me. The performance was such a contrast to either those of Haydn’s and Schumann’s “ whose pieces were so much easier to listen to because they were so much lighter. As the second movement, Adagio Semplice, was played, I started to believe that Liebermann was a somewhat troubled individual.
The piece held an air of mystery and romance to it, but created a haunting effect, so it was very hard not to be enraptured at the same time by it. The movement was played in “piano ?, which an Adagio tempo. As Allegro Moderato “the third movement” was played, the piece shifted to a more beautiful melody, one which flowed seamlessly, and was played well with both hands together, to give me the impression that multiple hands were playing at once. I couldn’t believe that all the sounds being projected were actually emitting from the piano “ I’d actually assumed that a harp was playing some of those notes, somewhere backstage!
It was, possibly, my favorite movement within the piece, flawed only once when Cho played the incorrect treble notes during one phase of the movement. She didn’t let the slip-up affect the rest of her performance though, although she looked a tad flustered. I gathered, by the name of the final movement, “Presto feroce,” that this next movement was going to be filled with mezzo-forte notes, and played with a certain ferocity. I was right. There were quick changes in the direction of the keys played, and it was somewhat hard for me to keep up with the numerous beats and shifts in notes.
I gather that the end of this tale was about the adventure coming to a close, and the mystery being solved. Cho rose from her seat and bowed to the audience once more, to a standing ovation. To sum the recital off, it was nothing short of fabulous. Cho inspired us all to want to learn how to play the piano with as much passion and grace as she herself did, and, although this is only one of the many piano recitals that I will attend, it will, surely, forever remain in my memory. A short analysis of the three pieces of music (Haydn’s, Schumann’s and Liebermann’s):
Haydn’s piano piece was more upbeat, happy and light, and evoked an image of a time long gone by. I felt like I had been transported to the early 1900s, where the bourgeois and aristocratic socialized within a ballroom of sorts. The happiness that resonated within the room was almost tangible. Schumann’s piece had a strong, romantic element to it, and it was more of a story than that of Haydn’s. I felt a powerful connection with it, primarily because it has been a favorite of mine since I was a child.
It held so much honesty and transparency in it, compared with the other two pieces. The melody was so prominent in all four movements, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Gargoyles was an unexpected addition to the recital. It certainly shook me out of my trance “ induced by Cho’s performance of Schumann’s piece “ with its powerful play of keys and its surprisingly modern melodies. Compared with the other pieces, it was haunting, mysterious, heavy and filled with adventure, making it all the more enjoyable to listen to.