Thursday, February 17, 2011

Curtis Student Recital: Early 20th-century Eastern European composers

I treated myself to a recital at Field Concert Hall last night to celebrate my selection for a residence at Millay Colony.

Prokofiev's Sonata in D for violin and piano was showy as expected, the string part far outshining the accompaniment. When the piano sounds like accompaniment, I doubt my hearing. The relative positions of the players -- violinist Ji-Won Song standing directly downstage from pianist Jiuming Shen rather than nestled in the shoulder of his instrument -- and their body language signaled hierarchy. I have seen a rare pianist command an equal or even authoritative role in chamber performance, but this was not the music for it.

Jessica T. Chang played Bartok's viola concerto, Francesco Lecce-Chong accompanying on piano. His Asian collar shirt caught my eye as they came onstage. As an aspiring viola lover, I admit I am unfamiliar with the piece. I missed Bartok's masterful orchestration in Lecce-Chong's execution and will have to study the piece carefully. Chang's playing was surprisingly straight in executing work from a composer known for rhythmic and metric aggression, but her sound was remarkably resonant. I found out from her afterward her instrument features an asymmetrical tailpiece intended to maximize the length of lower strings and, through pressure, their conduction into the body. Hot. Unfortunately for extended technique the piece is metal alloy and too slippery to bow (but maybe tough enough to be beaten).

The second half was all spectacle, and every soul outside the concert hall ceased to exist.

Identical twins Michelle and Christina Naughton with impressive coordination Ravel's exuberantly playful piano duet, La Valse. After a point I get weirded out by the medical exoticism people direct toward twins, but that might be me. The piece opens with indistinct bass clusters perversely harped on vaguely in waltz rhythm by one player, then passed to the other. I don't think I would try to dance to this one.

After some piano juggling Yue Chu and Michelle Cann performed Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps 4-hands, the version Stravinsky prepared for a friend and himself to rehearse the orchestral piece. I'd heard it in recording before but never witnessed the demanding changes of hands between players, part crossing and overlapping, and polymetric coordination in addition to the usual requirements of timing and balance. Some moments I found it hard to remember what the orchestration was, other times I heard the accustomed rich timbres, but most of the time I was able to enjoy fully the piano idiom. In it I was able to hear thematic material and elements of compositional mastery more clearly. It was a daring choice, and though a sloppy pedal release or grace scale was exposed on rare occasions, the performance was finely and musically prepared. I welcome such boldness from young musicians. Both Chu and Cann warmly greeted admirers in the lobby and expressed eagerness for contemporary repertoire.

Conclusion: these musicians are so young!

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