Home
|
Current Issue
|
Diary
|
Subscribe
|
Book Orders
Rising Stars
|
Selected Reviews
|
Stop Press
|
Contact & Advertising
|
Links

Rising Stars

Hastings International Piano Competition Prize Winners

Brian Hick



Rixiang Huang photo

The Friday on line concerts continued well into July. Rixiang Huang, was performing in what appeared to be an ecumenical chapel as there were banners behind the piano with a variety of forms of the Christian cross. The acoustic was close and lively, but with enough ambiance to avoid any unnecessary intrusive noises.

He played two extended works, opening with Mendelssohn’s Fantasy in F sharp minor Op28 known as the Scottish Fantasy. Though obviously linked the composer’s love of Scotland it was probably written before he travelled to the north where he wrote the more familiar Hebrides Overture and the Scottish Symphony. The first movement is restrained, almost sombre in tone, despite some florid runs, but it relaxes into the central slow movement with its dancelike rhythms. The fiery final scherzo allowed Rixiang Huang to show his considerable technical skill and virtuosity with the speed and clarity of his articulation.

Alfred Grunfeld’s Soirée de Vienne may be based on themes from Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, plus a few others, but you would have to know your Viennese melodies pretty well to recognise them within the torrid and overwhelming rush of Grunfeld’s transcriptions. It is an exceptionally demanding and exhilarating work, which Rixiang Huang’s youth and enthusiasm was more than up to, indulging himself in the challenge of the magnificent and virtuosic ornamentations to Strauss’ original melodies.

Fanya Lin, from Taiwan, was giving her recital from Arizona where she teaches when not performing on the concert platform. After a brief introduction she launched straight into her programme without any comment on the works themselves. She opened with the first movement of Schumann’s Fantasie Op 17. Written in 1836 it is regarded as one of the composer’s most demanding and complex works, the opening movement showing numerous changes of mood and an evolving structure which requires close attention from both listener and performer. Given the complexity of the score, some introduction to it might have helped our ability to follow it.

The only other work was an unexpected rarity, Lowell Liebermann’s Gargoyles Op. 29. Though the immediate impression is of a romantic suite in four movements, it was actually written in 1989, commissioned by the Tcherepnin Society of New York. Highly technically demanding throughout, the extrovert quirkiness of the writing creates a mood of unease, even when the melodic lines are clear. The opening movement is fluid and demanding, leading to a haunting, if uncomfortable, slow movement. The undulating nocturnal third movement leads to the exhilarating gallop of the finale which requires both stamina and strength from the performer.

Though recorded in a studio, there was a problem for much of the recording with a time delay which meant that Fanya Lin appeared to be playing the notes after we actually heard them. Looking away from the screen helped, but it was a pity to have to do this as her playing was visually impressive.

Gen Li was performing in his own studio and, unusually for the series, was able to provide us with a range of camera angles throughout the six short works. There was no introduction to the works other than saying he was playing pieces by Chopin and Brahms from the sound-proof studio he had created in his own home.

He opened with three Chopin Preludes from Op28. No16 is marked Presto con fuoco and for all its brevity it makes a fiery impact. No15 which followed is better known as the ‘Raindrop’ and brought an unexpected seriousness to the composition. No17 – an Allegretto – is more relaxed and fluid in its extended length, providing as lyrical conclusion to the Chopin pieces.

The other three works were the Intermezzi Op117 by Brahms, composed in 1892. The first intermezzo, in E flat major, is prefaced in the score by two lines from an old Scottish ballad, Lady Anne Bothwell's Lament: Balow, my babe, lie still and sleep! / It grieves me sore to see thee weep. Its gently relaxed pace and sense of introspection was beautifully captured by Gen Li.

The second intermezzo in B flat Minor had an underlying warmth to it as it unfolded in a rolling, undulating manner. The third in C#minor is a darkly serious work, unexpected for the conclusion of this short programme but highly effective.

Taek Gi Lee was playing in a studio with wood panelling which gave us one of the best acoustics we have had so far this series. Only two works, but as he said in his brief introduction, both were revolutionary in their own way and technically exceptionally demanding.

He opened with Rachmaninoff’s Etude Yableau Op39, No3 in F? minor, a highly complex work with an intense, aggressive impact across its surprisingly short span. Taek Gi Lee appeared unfazed by its complexity or the need to communicate its many changes of mood within so tight a frame.

The only other work was the more substantial Piano Sonata No7 by Prokofiev. The second of three War Sonatas it reflects the composer’s on-going difficulties living under Stalin and there is a sense in which the high level of aggression within the work reflects this conflict. It was first performed on 18 January 1943 in Moscow by Sviatoslav Richter and there is an irony in the fact that it received a Stalin Prize.

The opening movement is in five sections which oscillate between fiercely aggressive hammering bass lines and more sinister slow passages, before an equally fierce, if brief, coda. The second movement appears to be more relaxed and even lyrical but there is an underlying tension throughout which explodes once more in the final movement, which, if more extrovert, is none the less painful. All of this Taek Gi Lee explored with consummate ease and finesse, despite the power of the writing. A fine, if highly demanding, session. In Part 3 of the live telecasts. Garam Cho’s romantic programme was matched by the decor in her studio in Seoul. The pink lampshade gave a gentle glow to the room and highlighted the pink blossoms delicately displayed behind the pianist. Garam Cho was the second prize-winner in the 2015 Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition and combined works by Liszt and Chopin, but opened with an arrangement of Geshwin’s Embraceable You.

Earl Wild created seven virtuoso Etudes based on Gershwin songs of which Embraceable You is one of the most captivating and lyrical. The long fluid ornamentation of the lines leads to something of an indulgent wallow for us as listeners though the technically demands for the pianist are very high throughout. Liszt’s Petrarch Sonnet No104 comes from the second year of his Années de pèlerinage, written between 1835-38 and published in 1842. It is an emotionally intense work throughout with the flair and flourish Liszt displayed at the height of his powers. Garam Cho clearly delights in both the challenge of the work and the need to communicate the warmth at its heart even as the narrative washes over us.

Chopin’s Ballade No4 in F Minor Op52 concluded the programme. Written the same year as Liszt’s Petrarch Sonnet it is an equally challenging romantic piece dedicated to Baroness Rothschild who had introduced the composer to Parisian aristocracy. It opens in a surprisingly quiet and introspective way but builds through a series of developments to a fiery climax, full of assertiveness and power. Garam Cho used the close acoustic of her small studio with great tact and all three works come across with clarity and great beauty of line.

Jean Paul Gasparian gave us a gently intimate recital from his studio, lined with CDs and Music Books. His introduction had clearly been recorded earlier as he was clean shaven and had shorter hair, whereas he performed in near flowing locks and with a healthy growth on his chin!

He opened with two Mazurkas by Chopin - Op30 Nos 1 & 2. If the second is rather more extrovert than the first they are both warmly seductive in their ambience and brevity. Rachmaninoff‘s Prelude Op23 No4 was composed in 1903 as one of a set of ten. It seemed a natural progression from the Chopin as it was equally romantic and reflective, even if more complex texturally and in terms of its development.

Scriabin’s Fantasy Op28 was written in 1900 and proved to be the most substantial work of the concert. The composer was going through something of a dry patch at the time but one would not know it from the late romantic yearning he creates here, even with the extended sonata form of the work as a whole. There is a sense of a rumbling under-current which might erupt at any time yet manages to stay just under control. Jean Paul Gasparian handled the tension this creates with great skill and kept us alive to the possibilities of the work even as it came to its fine conclusion. The whole concert was shorter than many recent contributions but none the less very welcome. My only minor concern was what happened to the bust of Beethoven between the introduction and the performance?!

Samuel Deason has fond memories recalling the people who supported him and were so friendly; he remembers the food; and he remembers the weather – in particular the downpour as he was running to a venue for one of the heats and arrived soaked. He suspects it may have added a little something to his performance that day! He was in the fortunate position to record his concert from a small hall with a fine view out of the large window behind the stage. As the three works unfolded the light moved from late afternoon to deep night – providing a gently shifting background to the three romantic works.

He opened with Chopin’s Polonaise in E flat Minor, Op26 No2. It is a dark work given that our expectation of the Polish dance is for a more extrovert involvement. Does it verge towards melancholy? Possibly, but the technical brilliance of the writing out-weighs this. The other two works were both by Brahms, commencing with the Rhapsody in E flat Major, Op119 No4. This was the composer’s last work for the piano and was premiered in London in 1894. The sudden rush of enthusiasm is welcome after the brooding Chopin but even this work ends, though heroically, in the minor. The Scherzo in E flat Minor, Op4, was Brahms’s first published work for the piano when he was 18. There is a lovely fluidity to the writing, not to say a deliberate attempt to impress – which of course it does. The sheer virtuosity of the score reflects the world of Clara Schumann and her husband in the desire to challenge each other to ever higher feats of music making. A finely balanced concert and highly enjoyable.

Eugenio Catone chose to bring us Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes Op.34. These were written in 1932/33 after he completed work on his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and he gave the premiere himself in Moscow. The 24 preludes are written as a linked series, with one for each key signature.

So far so good, but this is a real challenge for a music critic. The works are rarely performed – I doubt if I’ve ever heard them live – and not part of the familiar pianist’s repertoire. I also do not have a score. I was, consequently, meeting these cold for the first time, and such is the writing that it is not clear where one piece ends and the next starts. There are some very familiar melodic lines here and harmonies which immediately seem obvious as Shostakovich. The technical writing is direct and open, frequently percussive and not without moments of lyricism. Where concerts earlier in the series have leaned towards the popular, it was good to be given a real challenge. I shall need to hear these again!

Tzu-Yin Huan introduced the concert from her own piano which appeared to be placed in a bend on the stairs – quite impressive visually and creating a generous acoustic throughout.

She opened with two pieces from Liszt’s Années de Pèlerinage. Au lac de Wallenstadt was highly atmospheric and its gentle rhythms certainly bore out her wish to bring joy and calm to her recital, as we were encouraged to indulge in the sounds of the natural world. The second Au bord d’une source appears deceptively simple in its flowing lines and melodic charm, but is technically challenging with its tumbling arpeggios and overlapping runs.

The remainder of the programme was given over to Brahms’S Four pieces for Piano Op119. We have heard these before which makes me suspect they are familiar test pieces. The opening Intermezzo had a Bach-like clarity and precision to it, which was impressive, before the emotional turmoil and warmth of the second Intermezzo. The lively and extrovert third Intermezzo gave way to the final Rhapsody where she found a splendidly virile attack for the opening section, but allowed for the many mood changes which the work goes through before returning to its extrovert opening.

To see the whole article subscribe to Musical Opinion



Home
|
Current Issue
|
Diary
|
Subscribe
|
Book Orders
Rising Stars
|
Selected Reviews
|
Stop Press
|
Contact & Advertising
|
Links