Virtuosa in F Major

Anna Alfeld performed a superlatively challenging and diverse piano program in Dunmke Recital Hall last Friday, featuring baroque, romantic, classical, and 20th century music.

She began with a crisp performance of Bach’s “English Suite no. 3,” which, in typical Bach style, features mutually important melodic lines played simultaneously. The complex tapestry of harmony, coupled with a delightful sense of momentum kept Alfeld’s work sounding intricate, but never mechanical. The sarabande movement, which is simply dull in unskilled hands, was fortunately rendered with particular skill and sensitivity, conveying a sense of dolorous longing.

Amy Beach’s “Ballad, Op. 6,” which is based on a Robert Burns love poem, was followed by Benjamin Lee’s “Lee’s Fantasia.” While Beach’s ballad was full of romantic intensity that reached nearly melodramatic heights, Lee’s Fantasia, a 20th century work, was a maelstrom of sour, thundering freneticism. The proximity of the two pieces in the program left a pleasantly bittersweet aftertaste.

Given the apparent ease with which Alfeld rendered the preceding pieces, it was surprising when she staggered briefly during Mozart’s “Sonata in F Major.” The charming piece featured a particularly amusing interplay between the hands in the first movement, which escalated into almost-baroque heights of competition.

Alfeld shone brightest when she delivered a mesmerizing performance of Maurice Ravel’s “Ondine.” The piece comes from the set “Gaspard de la nuit,” arguably the most difficult work in all of piano literature. It demands the technical virtuosity of Lizst and the delicate musicality of Mozart. Alfeld succeeded on both accounts splendidly. Her performance of the impressionistic masterpiece evoked images of flowing streams and majestic underwater vistas.

The show’s finale was Chopin’s “Ballade no. 4 in F minor, op. 52.” The daunting ballade was a shifting maze of emotions, transforming from thoughtful to playful to frenzied.

“It’s all very profound, but it’s difficult making it sound so,” Alfeld said. She clearly prepared thoughtfully, because she brought nuance and sincerity to the piece.

Despite playing an exceptionally difficult program, Alfeld retained a commanding poise and displayed the characteristic of a true virtuosa. She not only hit the right notes, but gave them shape and meaning. Gardner Hall was so enshrouded in fog Friday that it appeared to be in the clouds, an appropriate illusion after a transcendent performance.

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