The passionate pianist

Within the first few minutes of watching world-renowned pianist Cathal Breslin perform, even those with scant knowledge of classical music could easily identify his skill. His body language conveyed the emotions of his art – his eyes closed during the slow melodic parts and his head rose during the swells. It was evident that Breslin had a deep connection to the music he was playing. When there was a fast or particularly powerful series of notes, his face and body would shake with intensity. This gave every piece a more tangible dimension, because the audience could feel as well as hear the music.

The USF Music Recital Hall housed Breslin’s concert at 4 p.m. on Sunday, the second recital of this season’s four-part Steinway Piano Series hosted by the USF School of Music.

The performance was a spectacular recital of six classical pieces of music.

First of the night was “Six Klavierstucke, Op. 118,” by Johannes Brahms. This was a flowing, elegant piece that featured brilliant transitions played smoothly by Breslin. The four movements varied, with melodies ranging from rapid and powerful to intense and deliberate.

Rachmaninov’s “Etude-Tableau in E flat minor, Op. 39 No. 5,” and “Ile de feu I and II” selected from “Quatre Etudes,” by Olivier Messiaen followed the Brahms piece. During the first movement of “Etude-Tableau,” there were intense rises and falls in volume, certain stresses on the offbeat notes and when Breslin pounded the keys his left foot would jerk forward apparently involuntarily. It was almost as though the music was taking him over, and his intensity was palpable.

In 2007, his performance at the Cleveland International Piano Competition was critically acclaimed as with “superb intensity and passion.”

After the intermission and a thrilling applause, Breslin returned with three more pieces.

The evocative and melodic “Sonata No. 4 in C Minor Op. 29 ‘D’apres des vieux cahiers'” by Sergei Prokofiev, “Aufenthalt,” by Schubert, arranged by Franz Liszt, and “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C sharp Minor,” by Liszt.

The finale, “Hungarian Rhapsody,” was a triumph and easily the crown jewel of the evening. Deep, rapid tones transitioned to a lighthearted and peppy mood near the end of the piece.

The artist, a seemingly bashful character, greeted patrons warmly after his concert and blushed brightly as two older ladies gushed at his performance as if he were their grandson.

The 29-year-old is an incredibly accomplished performer, having played in nine countries and performed regularly on BBC Radio 3 as well as BBC Radio Northern Ireland. He received the bronze medal in the Viotti International Piano Competition in 2007 with the Turin Philharmonic, and has also played with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland.

Breslin was born in Derry, Northern Ireland, and studied at the Royal College of Music in London, graduating with honors in 2001. He is the only Bank of Ireland Millennium Scholar for the arts, which sponsors his time in the United States. Breslin resides in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he is a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan. In 2005, Breslin was the only performer to be awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholar in Arts in Ireland, which is bestowed by both the U.S. and Irish governments.

The Steinway Piano Series is named for German piano maker, Henry E. Steinway. His company, Steinway & Sons, has been producing master-class pianos since 1853. The next guest in the Steinway Piano Series is Rebecca Penneys on Jan. 20 at 4 p.m. Tickets are $6 for students and senior citizens and $12 for adults.

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