Ah, yes! A short recital on a school night — and with a reception, too.... What could be finer? Not much, if the program has been crafted and is then delivered by Kent Lyman, one of Meredith College's superior artists. The school's new Steinway has made hearing keyboard concerts in Carswell Hall much more pleasant than in the past. And on this occasion, with the pianist just back from a short tour that took him to Korea and China, the program included two unusual scores from Asia, bolstered by Beethoven's "Waldstein" Sonata and some charming rags by William Bolcom.
The program, performed before a virtually full house, began with seven little pieces that form a mini-suite called À la barre, by Iedon Oh (b.1958). Lyman explained that the composer did her graduate work at the University of Iowa, where she accompanied a ballet studio class. The brief components of this set describe, with a somewhat pronounced French (as opposed to Korean) accent, some of the steps involved in classic ballet, and they were delivered with wit and charm and astute pacing.
The other new work — new to this audience, certainly — was a handsome set of variations (Variations pour piano) on the Korean folk tune "Ommaya Nunaya" by Young Ja Lee (b.1931). Lyman recounted the travails of this composer's life, whose college years were colored by the onset of the Korean War. She wound up married to a diplomat, however, so she's been both productive and — judging by this musical example — happy. The work is certainly the product of a skilled composer with some daring ideas. The folk tune itself is somewhat wistful and nostalgic, but the variations are wide-ranging. Again, Lyman played the music with evident attention and dedication; this score proved to be the evening's major revelation.
The concert ended with a selection of American rags by William Bolcom, whose music never fails to surprise and delight. The numbers came from a set called The Garden of Eden — rags portraying Adam, Eve, and the Snake were on the formal part of the program, and "Through Eden's Gate," depicting the couple when they were tossed out, served as the encore. These sent the crowd away smiling, although many lingered to talk and partake of cookies and punch at the reception.
And indeed three successes out of four was not bad, at all. That aforementioned Beethoven, however, didn't get off the ground too well. Actually, the first and last movements seemed to be paced just a tiny bit beyond reason, resulting in some less-than-clear articulation in rapid runs that were exacerbated by perhaps a tad too much pedaling and the live acoustics of the hall. The slow movement, one of Beethoven's strangest, is exceedingly hard to bring off successfully, and here it just sort of sat there. I hope Lyman will take this great work up again at some point