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REVIEW: Pianofest treats audience to 'an afternoon of stunning virtuosity'

Pianofest features one of the two Shigeru Kawai grand pianos that musicians who perform in Barrie are privileged to experience
piano, music (File)

The following review was submitted by Catherine Waffle — a cellist, former piano teacher, choral singer, retired elementary school teacher and choral director — following the sixth annual Pianofest held Sunday, Jan. 26 at Bethel Community Church.


The Barrie audience for the sixth annual Pianofest concert was treated to an afternoon of stunning virtuosity.

Pianofest features one of the two Shigeru Kawai grand pianos that musicians who perform in Barrie are privileged to experience. It also highlights the talents of Canadian pianists who are making their names known on the world stage.

This audience was dazzled by the skills of Younggun Kim and Benjamin Smith, both based in Toronto.

Younggun Kim began the programme with the still, calm and most familiar melody that opens the Beethoven Moonlight Sonata. Kim allowed the Adagio to breathe, expand and be fully expressed. He deftly focussed on the sombre, introspective melody as it passed from part to part while maintaining the repetitive, rhythmic background themes.

The Allegretto movement lightened the mood with some delicate syncopated passages. Kim’s virtuosity was evident at the
outset of the Presto agitato as he delivered dazzling runs and powerful playing.

Benjamin Smith took the stage for three pieces by Chopin, the ‘poet of the piano’. Chopin demands virtuosity, dexterity and skill! This was abundantly clear as the first bars of the Fantasy-Impromptu (Opus 66) unfolded. The expressive D-flat major Nocturne followed.

Smith’s delicate touch conveyed the poignancy of the opening themes while his power emerged during the stormier passages and those characteristic Chopin ‘runs’. The Ballade No. 3 concluded the set as Smith took the audience from a meandering opening through a strong, rhythmic section and a powerful, demanding finish.

Kim returned with a novelty piece; a Concert Arabesque by a very little known composer, A. Schulz-Evler. He announced the piece as a one-hit wonder that was definitely ‘showy’! True to form, this piece delivered a showcase of spectacularly difficult effects based on the familiar melodies of the Blue Danube Waltz.

Kim pulled out all the stops in a head-spinning finale. The second half of the concert allowed these two performers to soar! Kim began with La Valse by Ravel. This dystopian perversion of the classical, Viennese waltz (seen through the lens of
post-WWI Europe) is an emotional roller-coaster. Kim deftly allowed the most beautiful, swirling, waltz melody (reminiscent of better times) to emerge from the fog of war and the disturbing effects that dominate the rest of the piece.

The power and frenzy of the work take over with dynamic extremes, glissandos and pedal effects that establish Kim as a master!

Benjamin Smith brought the house down with a spectacular performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata No. 2 (original version). The power and skill demanded by this piece, the nuance and dexterity required were fully realized! Between the gripping, dramatic sections interspersed with florid melodic passages, Smith held his audience spellbound with an unwavering focus and control.