Chiu recital and master class welcome last-minute additions

By Peter Jacobi

Tuesday evening’s concert by pianist Frederick Chiu in Recital Hall was a last-minute addition. The distinguished Indiana University alum was in the area, realized he had a day in his busy schedule, decided he’d like to see the new IU Jacobs School of Music building, called his former teacher Karen Shaw, and the two worked out a schedule that included not only the concert but a Wednesday morning master class.

Lucky break undoubtedly for the students chosen to work with him in the master class, which I did not see. Lucky break without doubt for those of us who attended the concert. His prodigious pianism stuns not only for technique but for what Chiu locates and draws out of a score artistically. What’s more, he always seems to have an extra purpose in mind, a theme that allows him to explore a musical idea.

For Tuesday’s recital, he had prepared a “Classical Smackdown: Sergei Prokofiev vs. Claude Debussy,” focusing on two composers whose lives at least partially intersected chronologically and who contributed significantly to the directions music followed in the 20th century. Most of the works he chose to play were written in years when both men were active composers, from the later years of Debussy, the earlier of Prokofiev.

Chiu spoke about the repertoire before he first sat at the piano and between periods of music, which he called rounds in support of his ”smackdown” wrestling/boxing theme. He had cogent things to say, but that aspect of the program, which included a request for listeners to fill out a ballot to record favorites, would have made for better listening had he used a microphone.

The music heard proved a Chiu point: that although Debussy’s works, for the most part, stressed imagery and subtlety while Prokofiev’s aimed for modernity and propulsion, each man could and sometimes did cross stylistic lines.

Sorry to admit, I didn’t fill out my ballot, choosing instead just to watch and listen. Watch because Chiu sits not on a piano bench but an armless chair, almost in a slouch, appearing totally relaxed as he draws fire and magic from the Steinway. Listen because of an amazing flow of that fire and magic.

Debussy was represented by his evocative and multi-hued “Suite Bergamesque”; the transparently textured “Cloches a travers les feuilles” (“Bells through the leaves”) from “Images II,” with its pronounced chime effect; “Jardins sous la pluie” (“Gardens in the rain”) from “Estampes,” rich in competing melodies, and the dreamy “Reverie.”

The case for Prokofiev was made with Chiu’s arrangement for piano of excerpts from the ballet “Romeo and Juliet,” volatile in essence; a sprinkling of short exercises, mostly tempestuous (“Sarcasms,” “Two Fugitive Visions,” and “Diabolic Suggestions”), and the breathtaking, show-stopping “Toccata.”

Chiu played them all from memory and exceedingly well. Whose music did I prefer? I can’t say. I can say I’d hate to be deprived of either genius. And I’m grateful Frederick Chiu stopped by once again, this time to share his fascinating take on Debussy and Prokofiev, compositional giants both.

© Herald Times 2013


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