A Memorable Student Recital

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I was glad to be able to make it to standout piano scholarship student Chee Hang See’s junior recital at the College’s Simons Center Recital Hall last Tuesday evening. Chee Hang — from Singapore — was already an accomplished pianist when he came to C of C to study with Enrique Graf in 2008 (with two years of professional entertaining experience already under his belt). A cool and confident piano performer, he’s also a virtuoso of the Erhu: the Chinese fiddle. It was no surprise that a sizeable crowd was on hand to bear witness to some very fine piano playing.

He led off with WA Mozart’s lovely Piano Sonata in D major, K. 576, dispatching the opening allegro with crisp articulation and finesse — even as his hands were chasing each other around the keyboard. The more pensive moments of the Adagio movement came off with crystalline delicacy and lovely tone. I was impressed with his adroit filigree work in the finale, in true keeping with the clarity and grace that Mozart demands.

From there, it was on to Frederic Chopin’s multicolored Ballade No. 3 in A-flat, a work that presents sticky technical challenges (I know — I’ve played it!) and a wide range of expressive possibilities. He captured the innocent whimsy of the opening bars nicely, before going on to deliver the piece’s moments of mystery, blazing drama and final triumph with lovely phrasing, dynamic contrast and excellent technique. This is one of Chee Hang’s signature pieces; I heard him play it last spring. While he brought it off here with more dash and passion than last time, he could’ve made his performance even more gripping with a more “liberated” sense of emotional abandon and intensity.

Next we heard Sergei Prokofiev’s varied and difficult Piano Sonata No. 2 in D minor: the work that established the composer’s mature piano style. Prokofiev was himself a brilliant piano virtuoso, and seldom made things easy for his players. Chee Hang handled the opening Allegro movement very well, shifting seamlessly between its downward-crashing first theme and the ethereally lyrical theme that follows. He brought out the short Scherzo’s motoric drive with near-violence, before retreating into the dark lyricism and seething tension (plus a couple of stormy climaxes) of the Andante movement. He handled the playful finale beautifully, with particular flair in the jazzy second theme, before driving on to a brilliant finish.

The program ended with a distinct bang, as Chee Hang barreled his way through Percy Grainger’s wild and headlong In Dahomey — or “Cakewalk Smasher” — and absolutely smashing it was. He delivered its ragtime-flavored antics and many moments of humor with skill and spirit, while showing off a bunch of unusual keyboard tricks (like underhanded crossovers and punching chords with his fist). It was quite a showpiece— and a great way to end a memorable recital.

Oh — and on top of all else, another of Chee Hang’s alter egos is as a piano comedian, a-la Victor Borge. If you’d like to see and hear him in action in a comedic version of the above Grainger piece, check out the videos on his website.

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