By Lawrence Budmen

When a gifted young artist achieves a spectacular level of performance, a new springtime for the performing arts begins to bloom. While there are many talented youthful musicians, occasionally an artist emerges who performs on a level that makes issues of age totally irrelevant. The 13 year old Hong Kong born pianist Rachel Cheung is clearly a genius. Her recital on April 14 at the Amaturo Theater in Ft. Lauderdale – presented by the Miami International Piano Festival – was one of the most remarkable events of the season.

Ms. Cheung’s technique is awesome. She renders the most complex scores with note perfect proficiency. Far more important is her musicality, artistic sensitivity, and sheer musical grasp and vision. Ms. Cheung’s limpid tone, elegantly sculpted phrasing, and formal rigor turned Johann Sebastian Bach’s daunting “Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D Minor” into a veritable pianistic tour de force. Rarely has the eloquence and harmonic complexity of the Fantasy been projected with such protean artistry. The multiple voices of the Fugue had intense clarity and musicality. Ms. Cheung’s sweeping sense of the music’s architecture was striking. Artistry on this level is rare at any age! 

The aristocratic classicism of Haydn’s “Sonata in E-flat Major” was turned to magical eloquence in Ms. Cheung’s aristocratic performance. Her singing tone gave vibrant voice to the finely chiseled beauties of the slow movement. The wit and classical grace of the final Rondo was dispatched with virtuosic panache. Haydn’s late sonata was transformed into a grand pianistic vehicle in this stunning performance. Three works by Gabriel Faure (“Nocturne No.1 in B-flat Major,” “Barcarolle No.4 in A-flat Major,” and “Impromptu No.2 in F Minor”) gave further evidence of Ms. Cheung’s lyrical gifts. The subtly tinted tonal colors and marvelously Gallic coloristic palette were pure magic! Ms. Cheung did not neglect the harmonic complexity of these masterful vignettes which look forward to Debussy and the rise of Impressionism.

Two Liszt Etudes – “La Leggierezza” and “La Chasse” – and the beautiful “Aubord d’une Source” were stunning demonstrations of this remarkable pianist’s lightness and dexterity. “La Chasse” is based on a violin piece by Paganini. Ms. Cheung gave a delicately calibrated performance that perfectly captured the sparkling élan of this music. Music from the salon of Frederic Chopin brought a bona fide rarity – the “Variations Brilliantes in B-flat Major.” This elegant work requires a level of pianistic bravura and creative imagination that eludes many keyboard veterans. Ms. Cheung did not disappoint. Her performance combined fleet fingered pyrotechnical display with gleaming visions of light and shadow. Her tonal beauty embraced this quintessentially romantic music. 

Ms. Cheung gave a brilliant performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Suggestion Diabolique” that gave full rein to the score’s fantastic, demonic visions. Prokofiev’s landmark “Sonata No.3 in A Major,” Opus 28 was a stunning display of dazzling keyboard power. In the central section Ms. Cheung displayed emotional depth and insight. She intuitively understands the heartbeats behind the notes. The cascading octaves and hand crossings of the finale were a stunning display indeed! In response to repeated standing ovations Ms. Cheung offered scintillating encores by Schubert and Gershwin.

Rachel Cheung has been a First Prize Winner at the Gina Bachauer International Junior Competition, the Vladimir Horowitz Competition (Ukraine), Llangollen International Competition (Wales), and the Steinway and Sons International Youth Competition in New York. Her remarkable talents are of the most elevated variety. For this terrific young musician the best is yet to come! 

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