New York Concert Artists Associates: Rising Artists Evening II in Review

New York Concert Artists Associates: Rising Artists Evening II
Jayoung Hong, piano; Jiaxin Tian, piano; Mariko Miyazaki, piano; Kazuo Kanemaki, conductor
Good Shepherd-Faith Presbyterian Church
June 2, 2012

What could be a better way to spend an evening than to hear – after Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings (Waltz) – four accomplished pianists playing four favorites of the piano concerto literature? Two concerti by Mozart (K. 466 and K. 503, followed by Schumann’s A Minor Concerto and Mendelssohn’s G Minor Concerto, made for a jam-packed evening. One couldn’t help thinking that such an evening should be required listening for young New York music students. Here are four pieces (K503 perhaps less so) that young players frequently attempt, though the playing requires the mastery of veterans, and the venue offers good vantage points from which to compare and study the different pianists’ approaches. It is also not every day that one hears so many piano concerti in a row played with such considerable polish.

The programming was a dream, starting with pianist Jayoung Hong playing Mozart’s glorious Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K.503. A relatively large work from an extremely fertile period in Mozart’s composing, it requires a grasp of large structure as well as sensitivity to its wealth of surprises – along with complete technical control, of course. Jayoung Hong played it with seeming ease and, except for one minor mishap attributable to ensemble distractions, delivered a fine performance. If one could sum up in a word one of the loveliest qualities in her performance it might be seamlessness. She demonstrated a fluidity that carried her effortlessly from section to section, harmony to harmony, without a note of hesitancy or roughness. On the other hand it was this very quality that left me wanting more delineation. One sometimes wanted more rhythmic differentiation (for example between triplet-eighths and sixteenths, even in the opening main theme) and later, in the flurry of third movement passagework one wanted more demarcation at points of melodic return. There are several schools of thought on this, but all in all, Ms. Hong played with a grace that suits Mozart’s style. She seemed truly to enjoy the music most by the third movement. Occasionally there was some sketchiness in the strings, and the winds were sometimes overpowering (especially where marked pianissimo at the Andante’s close), but conductor Kazuo Kanemaki held things together well.

Going in reverse chronology, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor K.466, came next, with Jiaxin Tian as soloist. While I am not a fan of “listening with one’s eyes” it was hard not to notice this pianist’s musical responses transporting her even during the opening tutti, before she played a note. This oneness with the orchestra and the music is a gift and pervaded her playing. Certainly she had all the technical nuts and bolts in order, but what brought her playing to a higher level was her unwavering passion and commitment to the work. Yet again, though, at times an asset can be a drawback, and I occasionally thought the piano should be less “one” with the orchestra and more soloistic. Particularly in the first movement’s opening theme, which could stand being more full-bodied, the melody was a bit wan at the peaks. The consistently receding tops of melodies had me wondering whether perhaps there might have been a pinky injury – but this pianist seemed quite purposeful in her performance. She lacked for nothing in the dramatic crescendo passages, and that “oneness” came in handy in some beautifully Beethovenian sweeps where she meshed perfectly with the orchestra. This concerto is often thought of as one of the most Beethovenian of Mozart’s works, and it is not surprising that Beethoven left cadenzas for it (one which she performed in the first movement). Her nicely ornamented Romanza led to an extremely fast final movement, which brought the audience to its feet.

In a change from the printed program Jin Kyung Park played Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor right after intermission, instead of last, as programmed, but this reviewer is not assigned to review that performance. The program closed with Mariko Miyazaki playing Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor. If some imagined this work to be too lightweight to conclude a concerto program (especially after Schumann’s A Minor masterpiece), a surprise was in store. Ms. Miyazaki played this oft-maligned work with fresh intensity and extreme brilliance. Bold and assured, she took the reins, leading the orchestra with ultra-clear downbeats and clean and precise pianism. Curmudgeons have often criticized this work for lacking depth or substance (a viewpoint I don’t happen to share), but Ms. Miyazaki treated it as a great work, and it repaid her. Even naysayers would have to concede that the sheer beauty of the piano writing, when perfectly executed, is a thrill akin to looking at a multitude of glistening chandeliers – call that a guilty pleasure, pianistically speaking. Ms. Miyazaki’s nearly flawless rendition was a pleasure indeed. She stormed and sparkled, and with equal poise and artistry projected the piece’s soulful slow movement. The final movement was a romp that concluded the program on a definite high, and again the audience was brought to its feet.