“THE LOVE OF MUSIC” FESTIVAL
Chang Tou Liang, Artistic Director of the Singapore International Piano Festival, is back in Hong Kong for yet more concerts. The reason. Just for the love of music…
Rachel CHEUNG , Piano
Piano Recital, Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall
Please help Inkpot by clicking on these Sponsored Ads. Thank you
Concert Review by Chang Tou Liang
The Love of Music. What a great and
totally appropriate name for a music festival! TLOM is a 10-day
piano-cum-chamber music festival organised by the Chopin Society of Hong Kong,
the very same people who inspired the first Hong Kong International Piano
Competition held in September 2005. Ambitious, all-encompassing, eclectic and
inspirational were just some adjectives that came to mind to describe the
scope of this very commendable enterprise that attempted to inject some
culture and sanity in a metropolis trapped in the frenzied throes of festive
shopping and hyper-commercialisation.
My healthy dose of pre-Christmas musical
sustenance began with a solo recital by Hong Kong’s pre-eminent young pianist,
15-year-old Rachel Cheung. She was the 1st prizewinner of the Gina
Bachauer Junior Artists Piano Competition in 2004, and her photograph was
splashed on the pages of International Piano. (To put into perspective,
our own Abigail Sin was not placed among the six finalists that year.) In
2005, she also became the youngest pianist ever to give a solo recital at the
Hong Kong Arts Festival.
Was she up to all the hype? Yes, very much
so. With a confident stage demeanor, impeccable deportment and totally winning
musicianship, Rachel could be described as every piano teacher’s dream.
Beginning her recital with Mozart, the Fantasia in C minor K.396 was characterised more by the polish of the
playing rather than sheer interpretive insight. It was more Romantically
inclined, with generous use of the sostenuto pedal and not a little rubato. And she does not shy away from making a big sound. The Sonata in D major K.576, Mozart’s last, highlighted a fine and fluid
technique that found her most comfortable with the running notes in the outer
movements. The song-like slow movement “flowed like oil”, but and she could
have done more to vary her tonal colour as her well-spun notes remained on
much a single plane. It is said that Mozart Sonatas are too easy for
amateurs but too difficult for professionals, and Rachel has just about
crossed that threshold.
Her Liszt selection posed some questions of
balance. Benediction de Dieu dans la solitude (from Harmonies
poetiques et religieuses) is one of Liszt’s greatest and most sublime
works. In this lush slow extended movement, her right hand filigree was just
about ideal, maintaining a finest pianissimo possible while the left
hand baritone melody struggled – in vain – against sounding stodgy. Although
she managed to bring the work to an impassioned climax, the overall impression
was a mixed one. Perhaps she is not totally ready for this piece. The great
Claudio Arrau also had similar problems in his recording, so Rachel is
in good company.
No ifs or buts in the Two Concert
Etudes, the second of which – Gnomenreigen - received a totally
stupendous performance. Staccatissimo e scherzandissimo, Rachel’s
goblins are of the supersonic kind, progenitors of the wildest and naughtiest
antics, and capable of leaping over Victoria Harbour and IFC 2 in a
single bound. I cannot possibly imagine it being better played.
The second half showed the same promise. In
Schubert’s Three Pieces (Drei Klavierstücke) D.946, she
alternated between muscular, big-boned playing and lyrical beauty of the cantabile kind, with all the contrasts well brought out. In the third
piece, there was drama and humour, suggesting that she is fully immersed in
and has a full measure of Schubert’s idiom. More of the same please.
The obligatory Chopin included Four
Mazurkas Op.24, which despite their beguiling simplicity, housed a world
of nostalgia and deep-seated emotions. “Cannons in flowers” was Schumann’s
aphorism and Rachel did much to reveal their melancholy, mystery and a muted
kind of playfulness. The large work, Ballade No.4 in F minor Op.52,
however felt too deliberate. Refusing to go headlong into rapturous
elaborations of the main theme, Rachel remained on a slow boil throughout
until the climactic three chords just before the tumultuous coda.
Unfortunately the tightly wound-up spring had gotten loose and the desired
impact had slipped away. She has no problems technically with the piece, but
will need to work on its delivery. Like a good stand-up comic, always keep the
audience hooked on your story and later slay them with a totally wicked
The recital proper ended with Poulenc’s Trois Pieces. Her dreamily impressionistic vision of the languorous Pastorale suggested she might revel in Szymanowski, while the
triumphant chords of the Hymne pointed to her probably having heard and
enjoyed Poulenc’s Gloria (If not, she ought to!). But it was the
sewing-machine prestidigitations of the Toccata that seemed to impress
the most – there is hardly any technical difficulty that fazes Rachel – even
if the memories of Horowitz or Rogé are not effaced.
There were two encores: a ubiquitous Chinese
melody (something to do with the moon and some body of water) and more sewing
machine music - Poulenc’s Mouvement perpetuel No.1 - played with the
keen spirit and verve that distinguishes the young.
Rachel Cheung is by no means a finished
artist. And that is the good news. Her teachers are doing a fine, fine job.
She will – with the further guidance, inspiration and in her own time – grow
and further develop as a musician and hopefully, a music lover. The sky’s the
limit (though not the smoggy, rainy and dank one which Hongkongers are
increasingly used to) for her, so it would be a total pleasure to witness her
again in three to five years.
In Singapore, classical music CDs may be bought
most inexpensively from SING MUSIC, The number to call is (+65)
6235 8960. The address is 304 Orchard Road #02-75 Lucky Plaza
Singapore 238863. Simply mention the magic words "The Flying Inkpot" and receive 10% off all purchases (except for nett items). Make a trip
down, you won't regret it!
Happy buying! The Flying Inkpot has NO affiliations with any music
labels or music stores.
Podcasts - FREE MUSIC!
Unnatural Acts of Opera - by La Cieca - Don't be put off by the strange name - this self-acclaimed queer operazine, presented by the deliciously camp (but knowledgeable) La Cieca, comes up regularly with historical performances which you can (with the aid of Apple's iTunes music player) download and listen to (you have to subscribe to Unnatural Acts, but it's free). Alternatively you can listen live on the website. Among recent podcasts are a live 1969 La Boheme with Pavarotti and Freni, a live Martha Modl/Ramon Vinay Tristan and much more. "La Cieca" provides her spicy commentary with every episode. FREE
Naxos Podcasts If you like listening to the radio, here's a great site to visit. Again with a PodCast, you can listen to these expertly narrated introductions to new Naxos CDs - you're guaranteed to be hooked. Why haven't the "big-name" labels come up with something like this, I wonder? FREE
[an error occurred while processing this directive]