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MUSIC REVIEW : Pianist Niwa Shows Power, Dexterity at Ambassador

April 21, 1993|DONNA PERLMUTTER

There's something just a tad ironic about Gail Niwa's most prestigious credit: the first woman to win the coveted Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition. That signal of the artist's prowess, however, was everywhere to be heard Monday in her Gold Medal series recital at Ambassador Auditorium.

Playing a knuckle-busting program if there ever was one, the Chicagoan proved to be the equal of most men in the arena of strength. She met the heaviest challenges with power to spare and impressive digital dexterity.

Niwa also boasted the rare quality, for a debutante, of not choosing to woo the masses with favorite standards. Instead, she put together a mostly Polish-Russian program featuring a number of distinctly unfamiliar pieces. Clearly, this woman has a mind of her own.

A coincidence--Monday marked the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising--may or may not have had anything to do with all the national music on her agenda. But, in her hands, the pieces from Szymanowski's "Masques" were quite moving.

Glassy glissandos, eerily ominous, alternated with fierce crashings, and Niwa knew exactly how to maximize their contrasting effect. She also sampled another early 20th-Century composer, Sergei Liapunov, whose "Transcendental Etude" No. 10 (he wrote a dozen, emulating Liszt's similarly titled studies), abounded in dramatically dense passages.

Earlier Niwa played the Bach-Busoni Chaconne with keen concentration and Chopin's B-minor Sonata, marked by a noble, singing line, and headlong passion or wistful restraint. Not least was Tchaikovsky's "Dumka," the simple, quiet parts of which she made eloquently mournful.

In encore, Niwa played a Mendelssohn "Song Without Words," and Morton Gould's "Boogi-woogie" Etude.

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