Superlative Pianism in Canton

United StatesUnited States  Brahms, Ravel, Chopin, Debussy, Bolcom, Arensky: Heather Cooper (piano), Shuai Wang (piano), Cable Recital Hall, Canton, Ohio (USA), 9.2.12 (TW)

Johannes Brahms: Selections from Waltzes, Op. 39 (1865)
Maurice Ravel:
Un barque sur l’ocean, from Miroirs (1904)
Frederic Chopin:
Ballade No. 3 in A-flat Major, Op. 47 (1841)
Claude Debussy:
Petite Suite (1889)
William Bolcom:
 Recuerdos: Three Traditional Latin-American Dances (1991)
Anton Arensky:
Suite No. 1 in F Major, Op. 15 (1890)

Of the more ineffable skills that can assure a sterling rather than merely adequate instrumental performance is the performer’s capacity for embracing the music’s soul. That skill, coupled with stunning technique, was in abundant supply for “Two Pianos” – the second in the Canton Symphony Orchestra’s Aultman PrimeTime series of chamber music concerts at Cable Recital Hall.

Pianists Heather Cooper and Shuai Wang provided a highly thoughtful and accessible program of six works, well balanced in its demonstration of both technical prowess and lyric power, beginning with several selections from Brahms’ Waltzes, Op. 39, for piano, four hands. They played with palpable grace and jovial abandon that effectively conveyed the dance spirit of these short, charming pieces.

Heather Cooper followed with a magical rendering of Ravel’s Une barque sur l’ocean (A boat on the ocean, from Miroirs). Her mastery of the continuous arpeggios and sustained right-hand tremolos – not to mention her remarkable control of the work’s subtly varied sonorities – was nothing short of hypnotic.

Then, Shuai Wang turned in a startlingly beautiful performance of a notably challenging work in the piano repertoire, Chopin’s Ballade No. 3. She articulated the strong contrasts between lilting joy and dramatic turbulence with extraordinary finesse and consistency, all the way through to the flamboyance of the triumphant climactic chords.

Returning to four-hands mode, the pianists delivered an inspired, bravura performance of Claude Debussy’s Petite Suite. By this point, the duo had more than sufficiently established the concert’s “wow factor,” clearly evident in the enthusiastic audience response.

And from there, as these artists played their two remaining duets on separate pianos, the program soared higher yet. In both William Bolcom’s fiery Recuerdos: Three Traditional Latin-American Dances, and the rhapsodic lyricism of Anton Arensky’s Suite No.1, there was often a spirited give-and-take energy between the performers, as if they were exchanging passages in light-hearted competition. Yet throughout, their unity of emotional fervor prevailed, along with an impeccable balance of timbre dynamics – all the more astonishing when considering that this performance was their first collaboration. Combining consummate skill and infectious passion, this concert was a double dose of brilliant pianism.

Tom Wachunas