A rich program of classic works was on the menu for The Aptos Keyboard Series at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Aptos on January 13. Pianist Kate Liu took advantage of the warm acoustics of the church to create an atmosphere of quiet moods and colorful displays of sounds. Beethoven’s late Sonata No. 31, Op. 110, engages the listener much as do the same composer’s late string quartets, with tuneful passages and complex textures. Ms. Liu emphasized the lyrical qualities throughout with a beautiful singing tone. Even the fugue subjects were clearly apparent in the final movement. Two Beethoven characteristics were plumbed for dramatic tension, that is, the dynamic contrasts between loud and soft, and the use of silences. Actors know that a quiet delivery can demand more attention from the audience than a forceful one. And musicians know that a quiet phrase draws the listener into the action. This was a technique used by Ms. Liu throughout her program.
Her use of dramatic tension was even more pronounced in the Four Ballades, Op. 10 by Brahms. Unlike the extroverted Ballades of Chopin, these are more inward looking works, influenced by the poetic musical expressions of Brahms’ friend Robert Schumann. This performance created dark emotional tension and moods.
Chopin enjoyed writing examples of the mazurka, a traditional Polish dance. He composed at least 59 of these short pieces, full of rhythmic variety. Ms. Liu played the set of three from Op. 59, composed in 1845. From the languid a minor mazurka to the rhythmically active f-sharp minor one, she again leaned more on the lyrical expression than the playfulness often found in these quirky pieces.
The Sonata No. 8 by Prokofiev dates from 1944, one of three composed during the war years. These sonatas all have strong emotional expressions. This performance explored textures that veered toward impressionistic, with the use of the sustaining pedal to blur the edges of sound. This created colorful moments, but detracted from the contrapuntal relationship of voices and hindered the forward motion of the phrases. Perhaps the motivation for this dreamy sound was the composer’s indication of sognando (dreaming) in the second movement. It was an effective sound not often found in the music of Prokofiev.
A single encore closed this concert, a lovely rendition of Chopin’s “Raindrop” Prelude, Op. 28 No. 15.