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On Monday night, Dr. Henry Doskey walked unpretentiously onto the stage of East Carolina University's A.J. Fletcher Recital Hall, music in hand, greeted by the applause of students, colleagues, and members of the Greenville community. Taking his place at the Steinway concert grand he arranged the music in performance order and quietly began the all-Chopin program with the Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17, No. 4. Composers and performers take into consideration the guiding of an audience from silence to music, and in this case the sound entered gently at a pianissimo dynamic, peacefully filling the space and setting a contemplative tone. The mazurka's graceful line of melody with gentle chordal accompaniment was followed by a contrasting animated section, but the opening melody returned, recapturing the sense of tranquility.
The peaceful mood was prolonged by the Nocturne in C-sharp minor, opus posthumous. The soloistic melody and broken-chord accompaniment, typical of the genre, suited its pairing with the mazurka. Rapid scalar passages were executed without fanfare; Doskey's economy of motion served the music throughout the evening, allowing it to hold center stage.
The mazurka and nocturne acted as preludes for the Barcarolle, Op. 60, the substantial work of the set. Doskey arranged the music on the rack and paused. Turning to the audience he smiled, shielded his eyes to search the house, and said, “My page turner’s missing. We're not going anywhere.” The piece soon commenced with sheepish page turner at hand. Despite Dr. Doskey's flawless technique and sensitivity of interpretation the hall did not seem to respond with clarity to the texturally dense passages. Or perhaps the dampened timbre was because the piano lid was completely closed.
The second half of the program featured the Twenty-four Preludes, Op. 28. What a delight to hear the work masterfully performed live, at one sitting. The series, which begins with the Prelude in C, proceeds from major to relative minor and on through the circle of fifths that encompass the entire range of tonality. Several of the preludes are familiar to students of the piano; Doskey breathed new life into the E-minor Prelude, No. 4, by playing it in a less romanticized manner and at a slightly faster tempo than usual. The preludes vary in character, and call for a wide range of technical expertise. Virtuosity is on clear display in some of the preludes, but in others the master’s touch is artfully concealed in gentle melodies. Some of those melodies call to mind the pedagogical piano writings of William Gillock (1917-1993), the “Schubert of children’s composers,” for whose works Dr. Doskey is the authoritative interpreter.
Midway through Opus 28, Dr. Doskey stood, leaned over the piano, and with a quiet “I just realized...” to the audience, raised the lid to “full stick.” His realization was perfectly timed, as it allowed the drama of the Prelude in B-flat minor, No. 16, to fill the hall.
If the listener loses track of progress through the cycle (the point, after all, is to enjoy the music, not to undertake accounting), the end is signaled by the powerful Prelude in D minor, and the work concludes with three dogmatic notes played on the lowest Ds of the keyboard.
Professor Doskey possesses an impressive resume. He is a noted interpreter of Chopin, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Beethoven, and Scriabin, among others; he is the recipient of many awards, has performed throughout the world, and is a respected pedagogue. But he has a faithful following of concert-goers in eastern North Carolina as well. Hearing this performance confirms why this is so.