26 November, 2013

Concert Review: Fou Ts'ong Recital

November 26, 2013, CH
Fou Ts'ong
Haydn Mozart Beethoven Schubert

I came late to Fou Ts'ong, but after hearing his incomparably artless playing of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 (a beautiful recording is available on Meridian) with the Macau Orchestra in 2010 I was an instant convert.

I was not aware of this concert until I picked up a flyer in CH. The presenter,
香港上海戲曲藝術協會 Shanghai Opera Association (Hong Kong) is unrelated to western classical music and does not have a website (but it is on Facebook). Even with no promotion, the hall was packed. For a 79 year-old, Fou Ts'ong looked very well, just a little slumped in his gait. I sat third row in the balcony.

Haydn's Sonata in F Hob XVI/29 opened the concert. Fou's distinctive touch and creative phrasing resulted in a vocal performance which at times sounded more like Scarlatti than Mozart. The same spirit imbued Mozart's Sonata in B flat major K570, but here I thought a bit of traction was lost.

Then came the magnificent set of Beethoven's Bagatelles, Op 126. In these miniatures, Fou conjured up widely different vistas, the moods by turns stormy, tender or saturnine, as only a master can (lesser pianists sound boring and colorless in these pieces).

The second half was the substantial Schubert Sonata in G D894. Unlike pianists who make a big meal out of this piece, Fou's flowing and operatic performance did not seek to uncover hidden emotions or plumb great depths. I did miss the sense of mystery, the twist and turn that great Schubert players can deliver, but the performance was solid and wise nonetheless. Three perfectly crafted encores rounded out the evening.

Fou's technique is remarkably well preserved. His inimitable phrasing and touch is intact. His left hand is perfectly lucid and the Yamaha piano sounded great from my seat.

20 November, 2013

Concert Review: Shenzhen Symphony All Dvorak

Concert Review: Shenzhen Symphony All Dvorak

November 15, 2013, Shenzhen Concert Hall
Shenzhen Symphony - Uros Lajovic - Arto Noras
All Dvorak

I just love the SZSO; they constantly surprise me with their performances under little known Eastern European conductors who are under-rated and much more worth hearing than many so-called big names (like those bores venerated in HK). This concert is one of the best examples.

Program opened with a rambunctious Slavonic Dance Op 46/8. Coarse, but the spirit was right.

Arto Noras is familiar to me from his CDs on various labels, often in rare works. However, nothing prepared me for the incredibly refined, coherent and singing performance of the Cello Concerto he delivered. His tone is not big, but his fluid phrasing ensured attention; and the top registers, though smallish in sound, were distinctive in timbre and of considerable beauty. Uros Lajovic was a most sympathetic accompanist.

The second half's performance of the New World Symphony was even of a higher order. Indeed near-perfection. To cite a few examples of the delights on offer: various rhythmic figures in the strings were finely articulated and pointed in execution, not a trace of artificiality; the performance just flowed, incandescent and tender at turns; dynamics were carefully graded - the meticulously calibrated crescendos were breathtaking and the climaxes truly thrilling. If one uses one word to describe the performance, it must be grandeur.


01 November, 2013

Review: Kyung-Wha Chung

Review: Kyung-Wha Chung

Kyung-Wha Chung - Kevin Kenner
October 31, 2013, CCCH

KyungWha Chung was out of the circuit for many years due to a finger injury, but according to the program she has fully recovered and has embarked on tours with Kevin Kenner, no slouch nor mere accompanist. Two friends heard this program in Macau earlier and raved about it, so we had high expectations.

I have mostly admired her recordings (my favorite is Bruch with Kempe), but have heard her only once before, in the early 80's in Chicago, with Previn in Prokofiev. Unfortunately, my student cheap seat had terrible acoustics, so it did not leave me with much of an impression.

This concert was sold out, but thanks to a bizarre twist of event I got a seat in the VIP section, where the sonics are excellent.

Chung appeared quite nervous, throwing glances at the audience and jittery to the slightest noise. The two halves both opened with a classical work, followed by a romantic one, and in both the latter fared better.

Beethoven's Spring Sonata immediately set the tone for the evening. The highly dramatic reading, with its wide dynamics, was too deliberately honed to convey the usual "youthful" feeling, but it easily held my attention. Chung's sound was very beautiful and fiercely expressive, sometimes at the expense of intonation.

This was followed by Grieg's Sonata No. 3 in a masterly performance. The duo's intensely dramatic approach brought out every nuance in the strange first movement, in a stunning performance the kaleidoscopic content of which seemed just to pour forth and overfill the hall. I found details I have never noticed before, ranging from wistfulness to foreboding, even terror. So even if elsewhere the playing was not quite lyrical I don't think I'd ever hear better.

Mozart's K379 was too deliberate and static for my taste, and I found the piano part rather square.

Franck's Sonata was quite different from her famous recording, less lyrical, more shaded and highly dramatic. The approach was equally satisfying.

One thing is for certain: Chung has things to say, and is thirsty after the dry spell of her injury. She is a tiger who has just broken out of the cage. The duo have clearly worked hard on their material and drastically rethought everything. I have the highest respect for that. Those used to classic recordings of the works here could have been troubled, but I think a little shock is good occasionally.

At the end, the duo worked the audience like the pro's they are and delivered 4 wonderful encores of Schubert, Kreisler and Elgar.

Despite technical blemishes, Chung's playing was ravishing and had a vocal quality to it - sometimes perhaps more expressive Callas than smooth Tebaldi. I hope they come back soon!

Concert Review: Dresdner Philharmonic - Michael Sanderling - Julia Fischer

Concert Review: Dresdner Philharmonic - Michael Sanderling - Julia Fischer

October 23, 2013, CCCH
Wagner - Dvorak - Brahms

Double Happiness! I was happy to hear Michael Sanderling again (I heard him give an excellent concert with the Taipei Symphony Orchestra in 2009). And I eagerly anticipated Julia Fischer, whose excellent body of recordings on Pentatone are widely available in the HKPL. And the Dresdner, though not as famous as the Staatskapelle, has had a long tradition under many illustrious conductors (many not well known in the West).

The Tristan und Isolde Prelude opened very beautifully. It was immediately apparent that this is an orchestra whose members listen to each other. The sections were balanced and there was a sheen to the strings. The music however, lacked somewhat in cumulative impact and the Liebestod in particular could have used more warmth.

Julia Fischer played beautifully in Dvorak's Violin Concerto, one of her favorites. From the highest notes to the low registers, her technique is impressively even and her tone ravishing. The accompaniment was symphonic; the winds were especially impressive. The playing of the flute in particular was heavenly. The reading as a whole excelled in precision and drive but lacked a little in "bohemian" feeling. Nonetheless, a fine effort for this concerto, which is always difficult to bring off.

I could hardly have asked for more in the rousing Brahms Symphony No. 4. Again, the woodwinds showed great strength and character. The strings caught perfectly the ebb and flow of the piece. The brass was not especially distinctive but blended in well. The difficult ending felt just right. As true for many young (German) virtuosi, Fischer participated by playing in the first string desk.