Paderewski Festival 2018 – Gala Recital by pianist Kate Liu

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Last night we had the pleasure of hearing the exciting young pianist, Kate Liu, in an astonishing performance that combined blazing virtuosity with a rare subtlety of expressive magic that drew us into her world and held us spellbound for the better part of two hours. Since the occasion was the Gala Artist Recital in the Ballroom of the Paso Robles Inn that closes the Paderewski Festival every year, it was no surprise that the opening work on her program was a work by Paderewski, the Mélodie, Op. 16, No. 2.

And this was a performance that was startling for its expressive magic that kept revealing new details of which we are usually unaware. All of the complicated inner melodies surrounded by important goings on were clearly stated and kept giving us pleasant surprises. The three Chopin Mazurkas from Op. 59 that followed the Paderewski work, were even more astonishing. The first Mazurka in A Minor in her hands revealed more layers of expressive pianissimo than I thought was even possible. Liu achieved beautiful pianissimos that almost disappeared at times, but always ended up achieving substance and meaning. The third of the three Mazurkas was a powerful statement of the more rhythmic aspects of the Mazurka genre.

The Beethoven Sonata selected by Ms. Liu, Op. 110, began like Beethoven in the style of Chopin — it was gauzy and diaphanous. Ms. Liu was once again demonstrating her magic that was holding us spellbound and mesmerized. The slower sections showed her amazing feeling for expressive cantabile, the second movement was more powerful than ever, and the fugues were utterly absorbing.

Up to this point in this recital, there was a sense of inevitability —Ms. Liu was convincing us that her playing was so natural, that there was no other way to play these works. Then came the Prokofiev Sonata No. 8 in B-flat Major, Op. 84. This 33-minute work is as difficult for the audience as it is for the performer. This particular sonata is not one of Prokofiev’s most cohesive works, and its rambling nature comes at a price. The amazing thing was that in the end her performance brought all the disparate elements together and it ended up being a successful performance that brought a firestorm of applause and bravos from the audience.

Ms. Liu rewarded the audience with one encore, a lovely performance of Chopin’s “Raindrop Prelude”. Op. 28, No. 15. What a great way to end a program.

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