Christina Dahl returns to campus for recital

On Sunday, April 23 at 4 p.m., Lawrence hosted renowned pianist Christina Dahl for a recital in Harper Hall. Dahl has performed at numerous prestigious venues across the globe, recorded on several prominent record labels, and taught at many summer festivals and universities, including Lawrence, where she was a faculty member for three years.

Dahl formatted her recital at Lawrence to focus on Frédéric Chopin’s 24 Piano Preludes, Op. 28, which she performed in their entirety as the last work on the program. She performed three works antecedent to the Preludes, all of which took significant influence from Chopin, to prime the audience’s ears. Dahl told the audience that the three pieces preceding the Preludes were meant to showcase the use of Chopin’s “rubato,” a musical concept which refers to the borrowing of time within a phrase.

First, Dahl performed Gabriel Fauré’s “Nocturne in E-flat minor. Op. 33, no. 1.” Immediately, she established herself as a fine musician; she played each musical note with feeling and poise, moving elegantly from one melodic line to the next. Her facial expressions corroborated the movements of her hands and feet to create an expressive effect for each musical character.

Dahl’s performance then took a bit of a turn with her performance of No. 6 “Andante mystico” and No. 8 “Leggiero” of Ruth Crawford Seeger’s “Preludes for Piano.” Seeger was an American composer who often referenced folk music in her compositions. Dahl spoke about this effect on Seeger’s pieces preceding her performance of these two Preludes which she described as being “concise and dissonantly beautiful.” Her description of the Preludes turned out to be quite true; dissonant harmonies abounded in both pieces, and a certain characteristic beauty blossomed from the atonal elements.

Dahl then performed Thomas Adés’ “Mazurka, op. 27, no. 2.” Mazurkas are dances that emphasize the second beat out of three. Orrin Howard, Director of Publications and Archives for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, describes in his review for Adés’ “Three Mazurkas” their connection to folk music, which comes from the element of continuous bass throughout the pieces. Such an effect was clearly evident in Dahl’s performance of Adés’ second Mazurka. Once again, Dahl proved her technical prowess with her excellent execution of this difficult piece.

Finally, Dahl performed all 24 of Chopin’s Piano Preludes, exhibiting admirable stamina. She performed the Preludes in order, alternating between slow and fast tempos and between major and minor keys, touching on every single key possible within the musical circle of fifths. Some highlights included the anxious and terrifying F-sharp minor Prelude, the runs in which had Dahl’s fingers positively flying across the keys. On the other hand, the Prelude in its parallel major key, F-sharp major, was built around a tender melody with silky accompaniment. The D-flat major Prelude contained contrasting characters: one a loving lyrical line and one a dark and foreboding figure. The arguably more famous C-minor prelude Dahl played with gravitas, and one could feel the music sink down into the emotional depths as the piece continued on. Dahl ended with the impressive D-minor Prelude, whose marvelous descents and ultimate quarter-note strikes at the end inspired a round of dignified, awe-struck applause to conclude the recital.

Lawrence is very privileged to be able to bring artists like Christina Dahl to campus. Performances like hers serve to heighten students’ musical awareness and inform about different composers and pieces. One can always imbibe valuable insights from a seasoned and skilled performer, and Christina Dahl certainly embodied both of these traits.