Meredith College has taken a big step up the artistic ladder with the arrival in Carswell Recital Hall this summer of the school’s new Steinway concert grand, a gift from Robert H. Lewis. That the instrument was selected by Walter Hautzig, Kent Lyman, Frank Pittman, and department chair David Lynch merely adds icing to the cake. This instrument is still working its way into its space, and Meredith’s artists are still working with it, too – a process that will take time and adjustments. At the outset, though, there’s cause for celebration, because this piano is the genuine article – a full-size, sleek black racehorse of a grand piano from America’s most celebrated builder – a Steinway model D. For far too long, Meredith’s faculty artists and students – and of course the public, too – have found the combination of the bright acoustics of the venue itself and the challenges of the concert grand that was generally employed therein troubling, to put it mildly. (The balky former instrument was beset with action and tone that challenged everyone, on both sides of the footlights….) The new keyboard speaks evenly, offering moderate tone that is refreshingly well balanced. Its voice is clear in soft, delicate passages and robust in sections requiring greater volume. The keys seem to move fluidly, the pedals are effective and silent, and the overall impression is favorable. We’ll look forward to hearing more, to getting to know this instrument in the weeks, months, and years ahead. For now, we give thanks to Mr. Lewis for breaking the long dry spell for the august West Raleigh campus.

Kent Lyman, who is Associate Professor of Music and Coordinator of Piano Instruction, is the senior piano person at Meredith, so it was appropriate for him to display the new instrument’s attributes in its first public appearance as a solo instrument on September 5. He selected a stunning program that began with one of Mozart’s most engaging works – the Sonata No. 9 in D, K.311 – and ended with Schumann’s demanding Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13. In between were two folk-based works that seemed right up this artist’s alley. He certainly has paid his dues in terms of studio time and world travel, and as a result he introduced and then brought to vivid life a charming rhapsody of Korean tunes by Eun Hoe Park and then lit up the night sky with Alberto Ginastera’s Tres Piezas. Lyman was on, and the crowd knew it, so at the end there was a (for Meredith) rare encore, in the form of Schumann’s lovely Romanze in F-sharp, Op. 28/2.

Things got underway with the Mozart, and aside from one stretch where the tempo got ahead of the fingers, Lyman brought radiance to the opening movement and intense lyricism to the second before embarking on a precisely thought-out realization of the finale that was, overall, just about as fine a performance of this sonata I’ve heard. This was no dainty little warm-up piece but rather a soul-searching bit of musical architecture par excellence!

The “Korean Rhapsody” (1975), Lyman explained, consists of western treatments of Korean folk songs. As noted, the artist has done his duty, so he was able to speak of the tunes themselves, naming them in their original tongue. This is a virtuoso piece that often dazzles, although casting Asian tunes in European-style garb remains daunting. Still, it would be hard to imagine any other artist drawing more from this music than Lyman did, and he was warmly applauded for his performance.

There were some hearty bravos mixed with the applause at the end of the three-part Ginastera piece, which consists of character sketches of women from various parts of Argentina. Some sections are mercurial, some are brooding and moody, and others are sinuously reflective. The composer has made them exceptional little essays for piano while retaining great nationalistic richness.

Schumann’s “Symphonic Etudes” are incredibly demanding for the performer, so it’s no wonder they turn up so rarely in recitals. These pieces – there are twelve of them – were originally called “Studies in Orchestral Character,” and they do indeed separate the pros from the amateurs; we were richly blessed to hear the set so superbly played. Schumann was only 24 when he wrote them. Several themes inspired this music – one appears in nine sections, and the tune of the huge finale is drawn from an opera by Marschner. After the first eleven etudes, Lyman mopped his brow, giving the audience a sort of silent warning. The huge, extended finale set the place on fire, figuratively speaking. It’s no wonder that, during the applause, a bit more mopping up took place. The Romanze then calmed the spirits before the crowd melted into the night.

This was the first of what Meredith is calling its Steinway Series of recitals. Other programs involve a 9/11 recital by Swedish pianist Johan Fröst (playing works of Janacek, Borodin, Medtner, Rachmaninov, and Stravinsky, as arranged by Agosti), an all-Russian program by Karen Allred on 9/18, the formal gala on 10/10, involving Meredith faculty artists James Fogle, Kent Lyman, Tom Lohr, Karen Allred, and Frank Pittman (performing music by Mozart, Lohr, Lyapunov, and Chopin), and a 10/20 program by visiting Ukrainian pianist Larisa Yesina. Details are in our calendar.