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Pianist gives polished reading of Chopin work

WESTMINSTER CONCERT SERIES, Vieve Gore Concert Hall, Westminster College, Feb. 8.

Frederic Chopin was a master of the keyboard in the 19th century, perhaps more so than Franz Liszt. While both were phenomenal pianists and noteworthy composers, LIszt was a showman who couldn't resist showing off his technical prowess.

Chopin didn't shy away from writing virtuosic pieces either, but in his case he eschewed flashiness for a more organic style in which the bravura writing is wholly integrated into the musical fabric and not superimposed on it.

This year marks the 200th birthday of the French-Polish composer, and Westminster College is celebrating it in grand style with six concerts — three this season and three at the start of the 2010-11 season. The series began late last month and continued Monday with a recital by Utah Symphony pianist Jason Hardink.

Writing almost exclusively for the piano, Chopin excelled at short character pieces rather than large works, and Hardink focused on that in his program, offering a nice blend of works.

Hardink started off each half of his recital with a nocturne: the B major, op. 9, no. 3, to open and the F sharp minor, op. 48, no. 2, after the brief intermission. He played both with nicely phrased lines, seamless lyricism and delicately crafted expressiveness.

In the first half, he also played the three mazurkas of the op. 59 set.

Hardink captured the distinct flavors of these pieces with their stylized dance melodies over a frequently rather simple bass. The mazurkas, as so much of Chopin's ouevre, are difficult to pull off effectively, but Hardink accomplished it and did a magnificent job with his fluid playing that brought out the subtleties in the music.

The bulk of his program, however, was dedicated to the op. 10 and op. 25 etudes, of which he played a selection.

These are studies that focus on certain technical points, whether it's arpeggios, octaves, grace notes or some other technical element. And Hardink showed off his tremendous technique here. He made these pieces look easy as his hands flew over the keyboard with seemingly reckless abandon creating in the process some wonderful music that was captivating to hear.

The evening ended with the Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise Brilliante, op. 22. Hardink gave a very polished reading of both pieces that was light in touch yet dynamic.

e-mail: ereichel@desnews.com