I do my best every year to make it to at least one of Piccolo Spoleto’s noon-hour Young Artist Series events featuring the College of Charleston’s best music students, and Tuesday's recital was my chance. I follow CofC’s piano program closely during the regular season, and was happy to find an all-piano concert scheduled. The College’s Artist-in-Residence Enrique Graf runs a highly respected program that attracts talent from all over the world, so it was no surprise to find four foreign students on Tuesday’s docket, each from a different part of the world.
First up was Eduardo Carpenedo, from Venice, Italy, an artist certificate (post-grad) student. He began with Funerailles, by Franz Liszt, a four-section piece written in memory of fallen Hungarian patriots. It’s mostly slow and mournful, with plenty of opportunity for deep expression — which Eduardo took full advantage of — and he handled the faster (and louder) funeral march section nicely, too. Later in the program, he delivered a lovely account of Liszt’s Un Sospiro, a very tricky marvel of romantic yearning, and one of my own favorites among Liszt’s huge piano output. Eduardo demonstrated technical strength, sweet and singing tone and deep sensitivity.
Next we heard a rarity (at least I’d never heard it before) by Samuel Barber: his Op 33 Nocturne, subtitled “Homage to John Field” (the first composer to write piano nocturnes). Doing the honors was Chee-Hang See, a rising senior from Singapore who is already an exceptional pianist, having played professionally for two years before coming here for college. He's also a virtuoso of the Erhu, the Chinese fiddle. The enchanting music unfolded under his sure fingers, sounding more like Chopin (who perfected the nocturne form) than Field, but with distinctly modern harmonies.
I’d never heard the next young artist, Amy Tan from Malaysia. The first of her two selections was also by Barber: the "Hesitation Tango" from his Souvenirs cycle. She gave it a happy and sparkling reading, catching the piece’s slinky Hispanic spirit and odd syncopations very well. She also delivered a bracing account of Johannes Brahms’ "Rhapsody in G Minor" from the Op. 79 set.
Alongside Liszt’s Un Sospiro (above), the most challenging piece on the program was César Franck’s mighty P, a work that’s heard often in recital programs these days. At the Steinway for that one was another young pianist I’d never met, Margus Riimaa from Estonia. That’s because he is Graf’s student in the Master’s degree program at his other college teaching position at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. He delivered the lengthy and complex music with clarity, power and confidence. I particularly enjoyed his smooth overhand arpeggio work in the chorale section.
It’s always rewarding to follow the progress of promising student musicians as they follow their path from gifted kid to finished musician. You never know where the next classical superstars will come from.