18 September, 2017

Concert Review - Kyung Wha Chung Recital

Sept 17, 2017, CH
Kyung Wha Chung - Kevin Kenner
Debussy - Faure - Brahms

How time flies! Has it really been four years since the same team's last visit (reported here)? Consider this, the last concert is still very much on my mind, which is one definition of memorability.

I'd actually urge you to read my last report, as it would almost double for how I feel about this concert. My appreciation for the sheer commitment of seventy year old Chung was one reason why I chose to attend this concert despite my current conditions, and I was even more satisfied than last time.

I sat in the balcony.

Like before, the program was not only on the heavy side, but delivered with ferocity. The first half, like last time, contained two substantial sonatas, but this time French. The opening Debussy Sonata was perfectly executed, but in this most difficult of all pieces (my opinion) I would have liked even more abandon and mercurial shifts, which the meticulously crafted performance (with Kenner a bit too safe) was just shy of. Nonetheless, a valiant effort. Like last time (Grieg), the second less often played sonata provided the highlight for the evening. I'd say there are less than a handful of violinists who would dare to program Faure's Sonata No. 1, a masterpiece without a really catchy tune (problem with this composer). Like the Grieg of four years ago, this piece separates the women from the girls, or, let's say, Chung from the rest (men and women). Chung's absolute mastery of the long line maintained coherence and revealed the piece's considerable glories. This is not to say there were no insightful highlighting (far from it); rather everything was woven into a total fabric. Kenner also played with more freedom. I'd never expect to hear a better performance.

The second half was devoted to Brahms. The F.A.E Scherzo fragment was nicely turned, but it revealed Chung had started to tire. She fought on valiantly in the Sonata No. 3. As expected, the performance was more yang than yin, which bothered some of my friends, but it was OK with me. Two Debussy small pieces closed the evening to tumultuous applause. The line for autograph was like that for a rock star.

Chung is an extremely powerful player, probably more than most of the big names today. Her sound just filled the hall and never got covered by the piano, which was not played exactly gingerly, as with "accompanists" of lesser violinists. In particular, I was mightily impressed by the slashing bowel sounds of her violin in the Brahms Sonata, which was just audibly and harmoniously at one with the piano part. In my years of concert going, I have never heard that. Surely what one may expect in a salon with an older fortepiano, but a veritable miracle in a modern concert hall! The duo must have spent countless hours working on this. My hats off.

My friends commented on her beautiful sound, but in the first half, that is not what I'd exactly call it. In the second half, though she has tired, the viloin's tone was more beautiful and different. I wonder what made the difference; tuning? a different violin, who knows!

Chung's teachers were the best, in my opinion. Ivan Galamian was the pedagogue par excellence. He made relatively few recordings, but I have always regarded his quartet's Debussy and Ravel Vanguard recording as a hidden gem. As for Szigeti, little need to be said. At the same age, Chung's technique is vastly superior to his teacher's. But Chung made me curious, so I pulled out her teacher's Schubert recordings, and they are superb! Technique is not everything, it must be put to the service of the music. I did find the imprint of Szigeti in Chung.

Also, after this concert, I re-listened to her latest recordings of the solo Bach works. They are growing on me.

1989 Chung Strad Interview

12 September, 2017

Concert Review: HKPO-Jaap-Yuja Wang

Concert Review: HKPO-Jaap-Yuja Wang

Sept 9, 2017, CCCH
HKPO-Jaap-Yuja Wang

I kind of suspect, in a way, perhaps young and flamboyant Yuja Wang, one of my favorites, is trying to ape Martha Argerich, in her repertoire, that is.

Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 is an Argerich staple, and she has recorded it at at least three times. I am delighted Yuja Wang elected to play this, for otherwise we would not get to hear the piece.

Yuja Wang played the piece in her customary virtuosic but non-sentimental manner, just what this classical piece needs. The orchestral contribution was secure but a little too heavy and over-inflected for my taste.

Yuja Wang played two encores. It was the first time I heard the Volodos-Say re-composition (arrangement doesn't come close to what it is) of Mozart's Turkish Rondo, and it was a delight. Then, a beautiful Gluck-Sgambatti Melodie closed the program.

I did not stay for the Mahler.

Note: I came across this excellent New Yorker article on Yuja Wang, worth a read!