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Spoleto hero opens piano series with style

Von Oeyen Thrills Again

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Last week's opening recital of the College of Charleston's dependable International Piano Series offered the glittering playing and rare musicianship of Andrew von Oeyen, the perennial Spoleto USA keyboard star.

Series director Enrique Graf knows how to pick winners. In just the past couple of seasons, he has brought us such piano gods as Leon Fleisher, Earl Wild, and Jorge Luis Prats. Von Oeyen's Tuesday evening appearance reminded us why he is one of the most exciting younger-generation pianists before the musical public today.

Bach's six partitas were considered revolutionary in their day, and remain some of his best-loved keyboard works. The varied program kicked off with the second of the set: the mostly solemn, reflective one in C minor.

Von Oeyen's interpretation was a marvel of clarity and control. He steered a course somewhere between the dry, academic style some artists bring to Bach and the drippy, overly romantic approach others cultivate. His playing had a sparkling, almost improvisatory quality to it, with little flourishes and ornaments popping up in places where you'd least expect them.

Leaping forward a couple of centuries, von Oeyen next treated us to three of the impressionistic Preludes for Piano by Claude Debussy. "Veils" (or "sails") is a gentle, gauzy miracle many of us heard as a sea piece. The swirling passagework and crashing chords of "The wind on the plain" evoked its title beautifully. "Sounds and perfumes mingle in the evening air" cocooned us in balmy, sensual languor. Von Oeyen brought out the music's subtle nuances and vast range of tone-color to ravishing effect.

Next we heard from Franz Liszt. "Valée d' Obermann," from his Years of Pilgrimage cycle, is a rambling tour de force of deep heartbreak and superhuman virtuosity — and von Oeyen nailed it.

He stunned his listeners with relentless power and passion.

The recital came to a dashing, joyful close with Carnaval, a bipolar riot of 20 short pieces by Robert Schumann. Its sudden, quirky mood-swings kept us on the edges of our seats throughout. Von Oeyen dealt coolly with its myriad technical difficulties, while enchanting us with his freewheeling, often whimsical sense of romantic abandon.

The crowd's noisy standing O prompted a pair of tasty encores: Chopin's skittering Minute Waltz and Debussy's smash-hit Claire de Lune. It was an evening of musical riches that nobody in attendance will soon forget. —Lindsay Koob

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