Arts & Events

A Piano Recital at Berkeley’s Maybeck Studio

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday August 30, 2019 - 04:33:00 PM

As part of the 2019 San Francisco International Piano Festival, on Saturday afternoon, August 24, Berkeley’s Maybeck Studio for the Performing Arts hosted a piano recital featuring two artists — Jiyang Chen and Albert Kim. In the first half of the recital, Jiyang Chen performed an eclectic mix of works by Handel, Chopin, Mompou, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff. After a brief intermission, Albert Kim performed Serge Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 8 in B-Flat Major, Op. 84. 

Built by Bernard Maybeck in 1914 for piano teacher Alma Kennedy, the studio burned down in Berkeley’s 1923 fire. But Maybeck rebuilt it exactly as before in 1923; and once Anna Kennedy had passed away, the high-ceilinged, Gothic Revival studio has served as a venue for concerts of jazz and classical music.  

At the August 24 recital, Jiyang Chen opened the program with Handel’s Minuet in G Minor in a transcription by Volodos. Next came Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-Sharp, with its relentless theme thundering in fortissimo as performed by Jiyang Chen. In the absence of a printed program for his half of this recital, Jiyang Chen announced each piece from the piano. However, in many cases he limited himself to naming the composer but failing to specify which piece by that composer he would play. There followed a set of works by Frédéric Chopin that was comprised of Nocturnes 1 & 2 from Opus 27 plus the famed Fantaisie impromptu. The latter piece, with its lyrical theme that was later used for the hit song “I’m always chasing rainbows,” was the highlight of the first half of this recital. Jiyang Chen next performed a piece by Catalan composer Federico Mompu, “Damunt de tu només les flors,” followed by a Tchaikovsky Lullaby. The concluding piece of Jiyang Chen’s set was another highlight, a transcription for solo piano from Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata in G Minor.  

To open his half of the program, Albert Kim announced that Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 8 in B-Flat Major, Op. 84, was written during World War II but was dedicated to Prokofiev’s lover. As such, opined Kim, this piece is not exactly the war-weary, anguished work one might expect from Prokofiev, but rather a work that has some of the flavour of this composer’s Romeo and Juliet ballet music. I can’t say I found myself reminded of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet as I listened to Albert Kim’s intense interpretation of this sonata; but I was impressed by its various changes of mood, rhythm and tempo. The opening movement is a slow Andante dolce. The second movement is marked Andante sognando, in other words, “dreamy.” The third and final movement is marked Vivace, and it features a relentless theme that reminds me of someone running in place. There are occasional interludes of very agitated music interspersed with tranquil passages; and the work comes to an abrupt, surprise ending that leaves the audience breathless with its intensity. Pianist Albert Kim distinguished himself in an impressive interpretation of this difficult sonata. After the recital, a brief reception with wine was hosted in the courtyard by Jeff Eastman, the current owner of the Maybeck Studio.