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European evening reveals some unique talents

Pianists Bernice Chua and Caitlan Rinaldy.

Music / “A European Evening”, Bernice Chua, piano and Caitlan Rinaldy, piano. At Wesley Music Centre, August 27. Reviewed by TONY MAGEE.

BERNICE Chua and Caitlan Rinaldi are both studying advanced piano technique and repertoire at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg and have returned to Canberra to perform a series of concerts featuring solo piano works, works for four hands (at one piano) and works for two pianos.

The Wesley concert was the finale in their series and featured each pianist in a solo performance in each half, with a surprise encore!

Something that stood out immediately and was unique to both pianists compared to local performers was mental preparation before commencing to play. A good 10 seconds of thought and concentration was used after sitting down at the bench before their fingers touched the keyboard.

Rinaldi opened the program with Chopin’s “Ballade No. 4 in F minor Op. 52”. A huge and demanding work, she played with great feeling and expression, using lots of rubato, alternating between pianissimo passages and then for most of this single movement work, forte and double-forte passages.

Rinaldi creates a beautiful, singing tone, arising from a very relaxed weight technique, able to achieve a massive dynamic range without bashing.

Liszt’s “Rhapsodie Espagnole S. 254” followed, and like the preceding Chopin, showcased Rinaldy’s unique phrasing and approach to cadence points within each piece. Her interpretations are her own, not copying any other recordings that I know of. This is a wonderful thing, where young artists are encouraged and able to find their own methods and creative interpretations of often-played works.

Playing in a fluid and lyrical manner, she brought out the bass line melody, a feature of this piece, with clarity. Her Liszt displayed elements of a “bravura” style of playing at times, which is appropriate for his music.

After the interval, Bernice Chua took to the stage, again allowing a good 10 seconds of mental preparation before touching the keyboard. In a unique interpretation of Chopin’s “Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23”, Chua opened with much more pianissimo than would normally be heard by other artists, gradually and incrementally building dynamic shadings into a powerful and furious double forte. 

Even though these two young artists study with the same teacher in Salzburg – Prof Andreas Weber – their playing styles are very different.

Chau extracts a singing tone from the piano in quiet and lyrical passages, while greater dynamics reveal an almost percussive effect from the instrument. Being able to achieve both is a technique that suits many pieces, and while it is a unique interpretation, there are other ways of playing it as well.

Finishing with Schumann’s “Piano Sonata No 2 in G minor, Op. 22”, a huge and demanding work in four movements, Chua launched the opening with a percussive tone, before settling back into a singing, gentle and most expressive pianissimo in the second movement, each phrase being measured and paced with great musical thought and interpretation.

The final “Scherzo” and “Rondo” moments were played without break, the former being bright and lively, bringing out left-hand melody phrases with authority and purpose.

Both artists play with great clarity of line and phrasing, making every note count, with their fluid and relaxed techniques and also restrained use of the sustain pedal.

A “piano four hands” encore capped off the evening, Rachmaninoff’s “Italian Polka” and it was done with style and flair.

In summary, I would like to stress that both these artists are extremely talented pianists but with very different playing styles. One of their greatest strengths is being able to shape and phrase their performances in unique ways.

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