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Recital Review Print

Vivian Cheng's Prodigious Performance

April 30, 2002 - Raleigh, NC:

Pianist Vivian Cheng is 11 years old but looks much younger. Done up in what was once called a party dress and wearing ribbons in her hair, she probably made some members of the audience that assembled in Smedes Parlor on April 30 wonder if she could possibly reach all the notes, and never mind the pedals. The bottom line is that she did a remarkable job, playing music by Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Brahms and Chopin like the polished performer she has rapidly become. We've had the pleasure of hearing her on several previous occasions, but because our readers may not yet know her name, here is a brief biographical sketch:


Vivian Cheng began playing at the age of 5. She is the winner of many competitions and has performed twice with orchestra-the Raleigh Civic Symphony and Winston-Salem Symphony. During her first full recital, at Peace, given at the ripe old age of 10, she played music by Bach-Vivaldi, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Schubert and Mozart. She recently placed second in the Level Five category of the 22nd International Bartók-Kabalevsky-Prokofiev Competition. Her victory in the WSSO's Talent Search led to two recent performances with that orchestra. Her concerto debut was in Raleigh last spring with the RCSO. She has collected other awards and recognition from the NC Federation of Music Teachers, the NC Music Teachers' Association, and the Raleigh Piano Teachers' Association. She is a student of John Ruggero, attends Davis Drive Middle School and aims to be a concert artist when she grows up. She's well on her way.

After introductions by St. Mary's President Theo Coonrod, Cheng began her latest program with Beethoven's "Pathétique" Sonata, made famous (someone observed) by Schroeder and Karl Haas. It has been played at a faster clip than Cheng took it, but rarely have the work's inner voices emerged with such clarity and precision. Her shorter pieces-Rachmaninoff's Humoresque and Brahms' Op. 117/2 Intermezzo-revealed her to be an artist with artistic sensibilities far beyond her years. Although a bit slower than usual, Chopin's Second Scherzo was at once dazzling and riveting, and Cheng's reading didn't devolve into a mere technical display, as sometimes happens with more senior players. After the intermission, Ruggero took up the burden of providing "orchestral" accompaniment (by means of a Mason & Hamlin grand) for Cheng's outstanding performance of Beethoven's First Piano Concerto.

The concert was the last of this season's Smedes Parlor events and the second this year that featured "emerging artists." Earlier, Olena and Sergiy Komirenko appeared under this banner. All of these young people have in effect already emerged. We are richly blessed by their presence among us and cherish our occasional chances to experience the artistry they bring us. Curiously, both Cheng and Sergiy Komirenko are students of Ruggero, a distinguished teacher, composer and pianist in his own right. For the record, his work in all three fields was on display at St. Mary's, for the cadenza played by Cheng was his own impressive conflation of all three cadenzas by Beethoven: the short one, the fragmentary one, and the one most people play. Unlike other cadenzas by other masters, Ruggero's made sense within the context of the concerto itself, and Cheng realized it wonderfully.

Her encores - there were two, which kept several critics up past their bedtimes - were MacDowell's "Witch's Dance" and Bartók's Rondo No. 1. We urge our readers to be on the lookout for this outstanding young player and to hear her the next time she performs in the Triangle.