29 May, 2018

Concert Review: Dang Thai Son

A pianist who is famous for not being famous
This is what the Montreal Gazette calls Dang Thai Son in an early and very perceptive article that tells you quite a bit about the low-keyed artist (much better than our recent SCMP coverage).

Ever since I heard Dang more than 10 years ago (maybe close to 20; can someone fill in the year?) in HK, I have become one of his fans. But trying to find his CDs is quite a task.

Recordings of Limited Circulation
I have his very first and only recording for DG (LP) with his frail frame on the cover, and it is unfortunate this recording is not in international circulation.

Dang has been well known among the connoisseurs in Japan and Taiwan. If you browse Dang's Official Site, he has actually recorded a lot of Chopin for JVC (Japan), and these used to be appear in PRC incarnations (Polo Arts), but I am not sure about availability now. They are excellent.

The Library also has his excellent Polish Chopin Institute recordings of the Nocturnes and the Piano Concerti.

May 26, 2018, CH
Dang Thai Son Recital
Schubert - Chopin - Paderewski - Liszt

More a master pianist of great patience and inner strength, Dang is not a pianist who wears his heart on his sleeve. So in rather stately and inward readings there was no great sturm und drang in Schubert's Allegretto in C minor, not to mention 12 German Dances.

The Chopin numbers again reveals why Dang is regarded as a master Chopin pianist. Tempos were again on the slow side, but in the Barcarolle, one marveled at the motion and clearness, while the Andante spianato et Grande polonaise brilliante was positively stately and built to true grandeur.

After intermission, five Paderewski pieces were played with crystalline clarity, and each had its own character. I liked Liszt's Reminiscences de Norma ever better, as it unfolded leisurely but grandly.

For encore, Dang played some Schubert at very slow tempo, and here the intimations and undercurrents were captivating.

26 May, 2018

Concert Review: Vladimir Ashkenazy and Esther Yoo

Image result for yoo glazunovConcert Review: Vladimir Ashkenazy and Esther Yoo

May 25, 2018, CCCH
HKPO - Ashkenazy - Yoo
Glazunov - Beethoven

I have always enjoyed every concert of Vladimir Ashkenazy with the HKPO. And so I awaited this concert eagerly, more so since I have recently also discovered Esther Yoo. I was captivated by her Sibelius/Glazunov disc (DG) from the library.

Ashkenazy conducted in his typical no-nonsense, even somewhat mechanical fashion, yet the results he obtained from the HKPO were astonishing. Glazunov's Chopiniana, a pleasant piece, was lyrical and relaxed, tinged with a Russian feeling that the bland HKPO rarely could produce.

The team's rendition of Glazunov's Violin Concerto was much like the recording, though even better in its depth of feeling. Miraculously, Yoo's violin, "Prince Obolensky" Strad, sounded just as in her recordings, rich and totally without strain. More than most of her peers, she is a natural, projecting and playing with the utmost ease and without pretense. There was not a hint of "trying to be different". With such gorgeous playing, there is no need to. Her encore, a solo Bach (sarabande), was similarly divine.

TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto / YooBut in some ways, the second half, Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, was even more amazing. HKPO has never really done great Beethoven, but this effort ranks with their very best. Ashkenazy coaxed a marvelously detailed, yet fluid and stylish performance out of the HKPO.

Those enamored of Yoo should investigate her more recent release of Tchaikovsky, for me even morememorable than her Glazunov/Sibelius disc. Since I borrowed it from the library, I could not stop playing it!


11 May, 2018

Nathalie Stutzmann and Orfeo 55

Quella Fiamma: Arie AnticheConcert Review: Nathalie Stutzmann and Orfeo 55

May 11, CH
Nathalie Stutzmann and Orfeo 55
From Venice to Versailles

We were fortunate to have heard this concert, part of Le French May festival. The program blends largely obscure Italian baroque contralto arias from Parisotti's collection Arie Antiche with a few instrumental pieces. Everyone will recognize the names of Handel, Vivaldi,  Scarlatti, but not so much Caldara, Cavalli, Bononcini, Conti, Durante and Falconieri.

The vocal program is largely culled from their recent CD, Quella Fiamma (details here), which has garnered much praise. But the instrumental numbers are quite different, with Lully and Rameau added to fit into the theme of Le French May, I suppose.

Nathalie Stutzmann sings very well. Her somewhat smoky voice is not particularly powerful, but it is well projected. She colors her voice as the music requires and her characterizations are vivid. There were no surprises - the best numbers were the best known, Ah! Mio cor, schernito sei from Handel's Alcina that closed the first half, and two by Vivaldi towards the end of the second.

Stutzmann is also a serious conductor (now principal guest conductor of Ireland's RTE), and it shows in how she lovingly shaped the instrumental numbers. The largely female Orefo 55 play radiantly with gut strings, with outstanding contributions from the principals, particularly the very fine cellist and first violin. I noted the violins were much better projected in the second half, likely due to tuning. The encore, the well known Plaisir d'amour, is also on the CD.

Simplement merveilleux!

01 May, 2018

Elizabeth Leonskaja and Vladimir Fedoseyev




Review: Elizabeth Leonskaja and Vladimir Fedoseyev

April 27, 2018, Shenzhen Concert Hall
Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra - Elizabeth leonskaja - Vladimir Fedoseyev
Brahms - Tchaikovsky

Utter Bliss! I still can't believe I heard the great Leonskaja!

Over the years, although I have heard quite a few of Elizabeth Leonskaja's recordings, and they have always pleased me, her true stature has actually eluded me - until 2016, when Warner re-issued all her Teldec Schubert recordings in a super-bargain box. More than any classical composer, Schubert's piano works, particularly the late works, with their constantly shifting vistas, are fathomless mines, wide open to philosophical injectures and interpretations. Heard as a whole, the box left me dumbfounded. Some of the readings were perhaps as wayward as other lauded ones (including the great Richter), but the probing behind the notes were supremely visceral and palpable, so much so that I went thorough the box several times in short succession. Desert Island material, indeed.

Imagine my excitement when I discovered this little-known concert in Shenzhen! Writing this article I went to her schedule on her website, which revealed that she had just come off a Schubert cycle in Tokyo - what I'd not have given to have attended!

Words cannot describe how wonderful the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 was. Although Leonskaja was more than able to pound it out when required, what greatly impressed was the teamwork in this work where the "solo" piano is more of a partner with the orchestra, but when her piano was to the fore, she displayed a cornucopia of pianistic genius - subtle rhythmic shifts and tonal shadings that I have not heard in a long time. Surprise of surprise, she gave an encore of Schubert that was even more transcendent! This is the best pianism I have heard since Elisso Virsaladzhe.

Image result for fedoseyevNo performance of a Brahms piano concerto would be complete without a sterling contribution from the orchestra, and here the SSO truly shined. The all-important first cello was magnificently fulfilled by Karen Kocharyan. Just as importantly, the winds played with great distinction, in solo and tutti, much more so than our somehow disparate HKPO counterparts. Vladimir Fedoseyev conducted without baton, with economical gestures, but was every step with the music. Simply magnificent! I have never heard a better Brahms piano concerto. The Schubert encore was icing on the cake.

Just as impressive was the second half. Long ago I had tired of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4, which received innumerable performances under HKPO, usually of the bang-it-out variety, under the batons of the likes of David Atherton. But this performance renewed my faith in the piece. Fedoseyev, long a leader of German orchestras, conducted without any undue sentimentality but rendered every true sentiment present. The score was presented with the uttermost detail, yet structurally intact. The best I have heard, by a long margin.

The SSO has gone to another level. There were many changes in personnel, seemingly all for the better. The strings have a new suppleness, and the first cellist noted above was a great joy, reminding me of the great Valentin Berlinsky. The SSO always had great flutes (under Zhang Bing 張兵) and clarinets (under Yi Cheng 衣丞), but now the winds were rounded out by the recruitment of oboist Cui Xiaocheng (崔曉崢). The circle is complete. A formidable wind section that is more than the sum of its parts, unlike that of the HKPO, which is the other way around.

Bravo!