Katelyn Tran, Pianist in Review

Katelyn Tran, piano
New York Piano Academy: West End Presbyterian Church, New York, N.Y.
January 25, 2012
Katelyn Tran

Katelyn Tran


Still a high school student only 17 years old, Katelyn Tran has an arsenal of piano technique and repertoire that would make many twenty-something conservatory pianists envious. Well taught for seven years by distinguished composer-pianist Ronn Yedidia (who presented this recital) as well as Veda Zuponcic prior to that, Ms. Tran lists a string of competition awards that already takes a full page. What’s more, the mentions of what repertoire she has covered in these various competitions show her as a musician with genuine musical fluency and versatility, not some formulaic “bag of tricks” taken out through win after win. Her playing itself, as heard in this debut recital, confirmed that she has a musical grasp far beyond her years, as well as the technique and stamina to carry her through ambitious programs. Should she choose to pursue the musical life beyond this point, there seems no limit to how far she might go. As music is a “jealous mistress” that decision will be the key.

Beethoven’s Sonata No. 27, Op. 90, in E minor opened the program. Ms. Tran played it with the kind of mellow maturity it requires, and my only reservation was that I wanted a tiny bit more breathing at phrase endings. As it was an opener, one might expect some adrenaline-related rushing, so this minor restlessness made hardly a blip on one’s radar.  Following Beethoven came two movements of Schumann’s Grand Sonata No. 3, Op 14, in F minor, the Allegro Brillante and the Quasi Variazioni: Andantino de Clara Wieck. It is always a joy to hear this Schumann programmed, as it is full of marvelous surprises but played less often than so many of the composer’s other works – another testament to Dr. Yedidia’s teaching through the exploration of a wide piano literature. Ms. Tran handled it with a mastery that was astonishing to behold in one so young, and one could envision that, given time to live with it, hers could become one of the outstanding renditions of the piece. Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2, Op. 31, in Bb minor rounded out the first half.  Small interpretive disagreements aside, she gave it a winning performance. Occasionally I felt too much haste in her finger work, in that passages seemed to “slide into home plate” rather than to arrive with fullness, but that quality is almost endemic to the world of the busy teenager. Hers was playing that moved ceaselessly to the next thing, as undoubtedly one so talented must do in life when faced with a surfeit of gifts.

Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition after intermission felt more “in the moment,” and the local color was ample. “The Old Castle” felt more desolate and expansive than ever, and I’ve never heard heavier oxen depicted than in her “Bydlo” movement – one had to resist laughing out loud to watch this delicate, elegant young lady create such sounds. The “Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks” also popped with life. Only some understandable messiness towards the end of the whole piece showed the effects of the program’s demands. It crossed my mind that it could also be the specter of Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1, yet to come, that prevented Mussorgsky from receiving the consummate finish it could have had, and the truth is that the program would have been sufficient without the Liszt; that said, when I heard her Liszt I could see why she (or her teacher) could not resist adding it. She handled it like child’s play. Over time the Mephisto Waltz may gain a touch more of its seductive element to match the speed demon aspect, but what a tremendous foundation it will have.

Ms. Tran graciously provided an encore of Debussy’s Clair de Lune, a very emotional touch marking the close of her years at the New York Piano Academy and the debut of untold wonders. It was simply beautiful.