Penneys gives annual piano recital


Rebecca Penneys

Leah Rankin | Staff Writer

Last year was the bicentennial celebration of two great classical composers, Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann. The pair, both born in 1810, left a legacy of some of the most masterful works in the piano repertoire.

Rebecca Penneys will continue the celebration at her piano recital at 4 p.m. today in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. The recital will include Schumann’s Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood), Op. 15; Chopin’s Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35; and what Penneys calls three “charming little pieces” by the French pianist Lili Boulanger.

“I can’t seem to get off this Chopin-Schumann kick,” Penneys said.

Penneys is chair of the School of Music’s Piano Program and is a faculty member at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester.

Through her performances, chamber music and teaching, Penneys has earned an international reputation as one of the great artists in the classical music world. Students and fellow instructors have followed that reputation to Chautauqua for the past 33 years.

In addition to being a birthday celebration for the two Romantic composers, this concert will be a sneak peak of Penneys’ new CD featuring the works of Schumann and Chopin, which will be available next season.

The concert will begin with the three short pieces by Boulanger, the prodigal pianist and younger sister of the famed composer and teacher Nadia Boulanger. Penneys was first introduced to the pieces by one of her students at the Eastman School of Music.

“It’s clear (Lili) would have been a lovely composer,” Penneys said.

However, Lili’s musical career was cut short when she died from poor health in 1918 at the age of 24.

Schumann’s “Kinderszenen” will follow the three Boulanger pieces. Through 13 programmatic vignettes, Schumann gives an autobiography of his childhood. Penneys has performed this piece only once before because she said couldn’t seem to find anything special about them, but performing the work years later has given her new perspective.

“All my life, first as a child and then as an adult, I didn’t see what was so important about these pieces,” Penneys said. “It was distilled Schumann.”

But now, she added, the piece is “totally magical onstage in a way I never predicted.”

The recital concludes with the Chopin piano Sonata No. 2, which has been proclaimed one of the most difficult and technically demanding sonatas in the repertory.

“All the Chopin sonatas are difficult,” Penneys said. “Chopin is a complicated composer, and his sonatas are perhaps the most complicated and difficult.”

Larger Chopin compositions are more unwieldy than his smaller works, because the composer wasn’t as architecturally sound as some other composers like Brahms, Penneys said.

This sonata is commonly referred to as the “Funeral” sonata because of its somber third movement. Penneys describes the music as “wind over the graves.”

She said the music represents a tortured soul with a darkness and turbulence that may reflect the unsteadiness of Chopin’s own life and relationships.

Penneys said of the pieces she chose for this recital: “They’re not easy to handle, but so what?”

With the support from her students and fellow faculty members, she’s got nothing to fear.