Alexia Mouza, the youngest performer featured in Raleigh’s 3rd Annual Paderewski Festival, gave a spectacular concert at the North Carolina Museum of Art. The program was a contrast of old and new, Soler and Haydn Sonatas juxtaposed with works of post-19th century composers, including Paderewski himself. Mouza, who has studied in Italy, Boston, and Tel Aviv and performed worldwide, was a top competitor in the 2015 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. Her vibrant performance at the art museum was certainly not one to miss.

Two elegantly played Soler Sonatas began the concert, showcasing Mouza’s expert dynamic control – passages played pianissimo were just as, if not more, compelling. These lively sonatas are full of intricate ornamentation, which she played with expressive attitude. In fact, the more intimate, smaller setting of the auditorium at NCMA lends itself well to capturing subtle nuances and expressions of the performer, some of which may be lost in a larger space. The same was absolutely true of the following selection, Haydn’s Sonata in E-flat (Hob. XVI:52). An example of classic Haydn, this sonata contains constant motion and rapid changes of texture. The first movement is flowing and joyful, and the second movement, with its harp-like arpeggios, gives way to a more lyrical melody. Again, Mouza’s piano dynamic was notable here, containing equal energy as passages with strong forte. Her articulation shone in Haydn’s third movement, with fierce staccato and melody notes breaking through a full texture.

The selections for the concert’s second half were wilder in nature, and all the more engaging for it. Ginastera’s Sonata No. 1 (Op. 22) is a veritable explosion, full of Ginastera’s trademark use of Latin-American rhythm and melody, echoing national folklore without quoting specific tunes directly. To say that this sonata requires strength and stamina to play is an understatement – yet Mouza accomplished all this and more, using organic expression to combat tension when the music was nearly too heavy and dissonant to bear. The first and last movements of the sonata are especially breathless, with syncopated chords leaping among high and low range. The middle movements provide hints of mystery, and Mouza seamlessly wove prismatic treble notes and slow, strum-like arpeggios with sudden bursts of energy akin to movement one. The thrilling conclusion of the fourth movement brought some audience members to their feet in well-deserved applause, despite the fact that the concert wasn’t over yet.

In a clever programming decision, Paderewski’s soulful Nocturne Op. 16, No. 4 served to eliminate any remaining tension for the audience. The piano-shaking chords of the Ginastera followed by this nocturne’s languid and cool texture created a very interesting contrast. However, this respite didn’t last for long because Mouza played Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 2 next – a grand and complex piece full of sheer physical difficulty. The overall tonality of this sonata is slightly abstract and unpredictable, but Mouza’s emphasis of more poignant moments, especially in the second movement, worked wonders. The sweeping, passionate melody in this movement was a wonderful example of Mouza’s ability to bring beauty and character to the tensest moments. The third movement is a clash between nearly violent chord clashes and brief moments of lighter staccato melody, culminating in a wonderfully dramatic fanfare to the end. Mouza’s performance resulted in not one, but two encores, which were equally as wonderful as the pieces before.

This year’s Paderewski Festival closes on Sunday with a recital by Janusz Olejnicza at the NC Museum of Art. For information, see the sidebar.