Brought Haydn, Beethoven, Chopin and Ravel to San José
in a Superb Concert


By Iride Aparicio

Photos Courtesy: The Steinway Society

SILICON VALLEY, CA --In her LIVE/ STREAMED concert sponsored by the Steinway Society the Bay Area, on May 8, at Valley Christian High School, in San José, Pianist Rachel Cheung, covered three Centuries of Classical music in the works of Franz Joseph Haydn (l732-l809) Ludwig Van  Beethoven, (1770-1827) Fréderik Chopin (1810=1849) and Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) playing each on of the styles with brio and seamlessly.

Dressed in a soft, formal navy blue gown baring part of her back, Pianist Cheung entered the stage, bowed to the audience, sat at the grand Steinway piano and started playing her Haydn's Fantasia in C Major, Hob. XVII:4 (1789) with  vitality, a soft touch,  and perfect clarity in each note.   

For those unfamiliar with the style of a Fantasia, also called Fancy or Fantasy, the name is given  to a free form composition (a piece coming from the composer's inspiration) which in its musical structure, imitates the Fugue, because like the Fugues, the Fantasias are based in one or two musical motives (themes), followed by melodic imitations.  

The writing of Fantasias was  in vogue in England during the 16th and 17th Centuries. Most of them were written for a solo instrument: a keyboard , a lute or a viola. The style flourished at the time of Henry Purcell (1659-95).


Music encyclopedic information describes Haydn's Fantasia in C Major as one of the few works which he wrote to express himself and that he was so pleased with it, that in the year 1789 letter to his Viennese Publisher Artaria he wrote:  "In a recent whimsical hour I just wrote a totally new Capriccio in the pianoforte."  

Haydn based the theme of his Fantasia on an Austrian folk song, a polka titled  "Do Bauren hat d'Katz valor'n"  which may be translated as "The cat values the hat of Bauren." Knowing  the title, allows those listening to the jumpy music to imagine a cat, running on the keyboard, represented by the pianist's playing fast arpeggios, and even jumping, played by the pianist crossing her hands. Those watching her Streamed concert, noticed that the camera focused in Cheung's had at the times when curling her fingers over the keyboard, she imitated a cat's paw, in the air, before she hit the keyboard.  

To execute correctly this piece, which Cheung did, is not easy. Among other technical issues, the piece requires perfect dexterity of fingers, because the piece is very fast and requires a good memory since the pianist is required to lifts her right hand over the keyboard for a few seconds, and then land it on the correct notes to be able to continue playing the piece without missing a beat. Cheung's masterful interpretation of the piece  allowed her audience to listen to the sound of every note clearly.

Her second work,  Haydn's Andante and Variations in F minor, allowed the pianist to actually interpret the slower  piece, by pausing, changing the volume, and interpreting it, making us feel the nuances. The variations also allowed her to demonstrated the perfect dexterity of her fingers.

As a pianist, Cheung also has a very expressive face, and with the upper part of her body, as she plays, she uses to convey to her audience the mood of the music. In her slow passages, at times, she closes her eyes and takes deep breaths, demonstrating to her audience, her deep feelings as she is executing the piece completely absorbed in its interpretation.  

Her third work, was Beethoven's Sonata No 31 in A-flat Major, Op 110, which in our opinion, was her best interpretation in the first part of her concert. She started her Sonata's softly sounding every one of the slow  high notes of the piano's keyboard as her facial expression and shot eyes,  were captured by the camera, demonstrating that as she was playing the notes,  she was feeling the sound of each one intensively. Because of it, as she played, the pianist managed  to spread a feeling of peace over her audience before braking the mood with a series of high notes getting louder and louder and then so softer and pianissimo that we could barely hear them. Her performance, her fingering dexterity, and her change of dynamics made listening to her Beethoven's Sonata a unique experience.

After a short intermission, Cheung came back dressed in a red formal gown for the second part of her program which included Maurice Ravel, Noctuelles, II Olseaux tristes, III Une barque sur l'ocean, IV Alborade del Gracioso and V La Vallés des clocheso. Ending with Chopin's Andante spianato et C, Op. 22.

Those familiar with Ravel's music know, that when he began composing his own music he developed  his own style, incorporating elements of baroque, neoclassicism, and at the end jazz in his compositions. Others also may know that not all his compositions have a "motive" or even a melody,and Noctuelles (night moths, luciernagas in Spanish) is one of them. 

The work is interesting for pianists because it is based on  a series of musical configurations that Ravel used to give his listeners the impression of a continuous Cadenza (A virtuoso passage usually played at the end of a piece) which in this case try to imitate, in sound , a continuous spiral flying in circles characteristic in groups of night moths lighting the darkness of the night.
Because of its considerable change in harmonics and lack of melody, the piece is very difficult  to play. In playing it, seamlessly, Cheung demonstrated her excellent memory , her touch, and the agility and dexterity of her fingers.

Another one of Ravel's pieces that we would like to mention is Une Barque sur l' ocean, which may be translated as a boat floating on the ocean. This piece has been considered by a number of musicologists as one of Ravel's most breathtaking compositions,  because in it, with its arrangement of arpeggios and harmonic progressions, Ravel managed to make his listeners  see in their minds, a clear picture of a boat, floating in the sea.

Our favorite, Ravel's piece, however, was Alborada (Cheung's four piece in this part of her concert) which translated to English  means Dawn. So our minds' picture, begins forming with the first sounds of notes being played in both hands by pianist, slowly and softly on the upper notes of the keyboard and repeated. The repetition makes the sound circular, and almost able to see in front or our eyes, the orange stretched clouds, where the red top arch of the sun is peeking and then raising slowly, at first, before starting growing into a complete circle as the arpeggios played fast, up and down the keyboard and get louder the higher notes are heard in the background, to display in our minds, the full rising sun.

Cheung ended her concert with a masterful interpretation of Chopin's Andante Spianato Grand Polonaise Brillante, Op. 12, which was actually written for piano and orchestra but played often by pianists because the piano piece which was composed as an instruction of the orchestral work (Spianato) was liked for pianists because it is even and smooth. Written in 1830 and finished in Vienna a year later it was the last work that Chopin composed for several years and the only time he used the name Spianato in his compositions.  In our opinion, Rachel Cheung's interpretation of the piece made it her best interpretation of her whole concert, which was superb.