Aldo Parisot presents Larry Weng in Review

Aldo Parisot presents Larry Weng in Review

Larry Weng, piano
Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
March 12, 2014

 

In an age where solo debuts compete for attention like so many “selfie” portraits, it is not easy to stand out. It helps if one comes with the endorsement of a master in the field, as did Chinese-born 26-year-old pianist Larry Weng, presented by Professor Aldo Parisot of the Yale School of Music where Mr. Weng is currently a graduate student. What also “helps” (and this is much deeper than mere career advice, hence the quotation marks) is the attendance of even more powerful luminaries – in this case Schubert, Chopin, and Ravel – with the kind of playing that invites the composers in as the guests of honor, rather than mere facilitators. It happens less often than one would like, but Mr. Weng is an extremely sensitive musician and mature interpreter who did just that. He brought great music new life in one of the outstanding debut recitals of the season.

Mr. Weng’s program opened with Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasie Op. 61, a masterpiece from late in Chopin’s life. One doesn’t normally think of this work as an opener, partly because it has such autumnal, ruminative qualities that lend themselves to the post-intermission lull – and partly because of its interpretive difficulties; Mr. Weng, however, made me a believer in this programming. The sprawling improvisatory opening became a perfect prelude to lure the listener into Mr. Weng’s musical world. Instead of fighting its meandering tendencies as some do in effort to keep it from falling apart at the seams, he followed its dreaming lines wherever they seemed to lead. It had spontaneity and inevitability, along with convincing cohesion – quite a feat! Contrary to popular musical advice, yielding to each moment can at times unify the whole better than straitjacketing a creation into some perceived planned structure. In any case, Mr. Weng’s expressive phrasing and tonal beauty carried the listener effortlessly to its brilliant ending. His technique was more than ample, a few smudges towards the end notwithstanding.

Oiseaux tristes followed – in beautiful sequence – bringing us into the world of Ravel’s Miroirs, of which Mr. Weng also included the movements Alborada del gracioso and La vallée des cloches. While I’ve usually preferred to hear (and play) these as a complete set, I confess that I barely missed the omitted ones (Noctuelles and Une Barque sur l’océan). Also, after the expansive approach that Mr. Weng took to the Chopin (giving it a somewhat longer duration than the average), the shortened group was welcome. Undiluted and undistracted by Noctuelles, the delicate Oiseaux Tristes was particularly poignant in isolation. Only the fiery Alborada couldsnap one out of the trance, and it certainly did the trick with this pianist’s crisp rhythms and fine finger-work. Mr. Weng handled its formidable repeated-note passages expertly. The breathtaking musical colors of La vallée des cloches closed this set, leaving only the same composer’s La Valse for the first half. La Valse is a rousing closer to a half – and it was given a rousing rendition here. Most performances of this work leave one wanting just a bit more tweaking from the multiple editions available (printed and other), as Ravel left some problematic sketchiness in his transcription from orchestra to piano. Often the orchestral textures are either thickened to excess or left sounding bare or skeletal, so rarely is every listener happy in each section of it; all in all, though, Mr. Weng’s sense of flair for this French-Viennese flavored Waltz carried the day, and the overall sweep was wonderful.

The entire second half was devoted to Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A Major, D. 959, among the composer’s great late masterpieces. Here, perhaps most in the entire recital, one could hear the extent of Mr. Weng’s artistry, mature beyond his young years. He sustained enormously long lines and sections while never forgetting Schubert, the lieder composer, and Schubert, the chamber music composer. One could quibble here and there, for example over a bit of rushing in the last movement (arguably justifiable in the name of momentum), but overall it was one of the finest live performances of this work that I’ve heard. Hearty ovations were rewarded with an encore of more Schubert, the Impromptu in G-flat, Op. 90, No. 3 (D. 899/3). It was sublime, again with surprising little turns of phrase that gave it life without tearing at the fabric of the piece. Mr. Weng should have a very bright future, and I join his audience in looking forward to hearing more from him.

 

 


A Chinese New Year Celebration: “The Year of the Horse”

A Chinese New Year Celebration: “The Year of the Horse”

A Chinese New Year Celebration: “The Year of the Horse”
New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center; February 1, 2014
Long Yu, conductor; Yuja Wang, piano;Cho-Liang Lin, violin;
Jian Wang, cello (New York Philharmonic debut)
Song Zuying, vocalist (New York Philharmonic debut)

There were no indications that this was a special Chinese New Year Concert except for two huge golden balloons of beautiful horses  placed on a ledge outside the hall and visible from both inside and outside. This–among other things this evening–was very tastefully done.

Cho-Liang Lin, violin

Cho-Liang Lin, violin; Long Yu conducts the New York Philharmonic in a Chinese New Year celebration at Avery Fisher Hall, 2/1/14. Photo by Chris Lee

The Concert opened with “The Triple Resurrection” for Violin, Violoncello, Piano and Orchestra (2013) by Tan Dun of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” fame. It is a one-movement work with no tempo indication and is a salute to Wagner’s Ring Cycle. It didn’t hold together very well and appeared to be an eclectic mix of sounds and styles. For sure, it wasn’t Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, which is undoubtedly a masterpiece. Yet Dun’s work did utilize all the program’s soloists (except the singer), and this was a great way to tie the musicians together. After this collaboration, Yuja Wang–who is fast becoming a star–performed solo. The problem here–in a performance of Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Variations–was one of balance, as there were times when Wang was completely inaudible. Yet when I heard her in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with another orchestra in another hall, I heard every note! Was she tired here? Was the orchestra just too overpowering? Hard to say. When she was audible–mostly in the quiet, lyrical sections or high up on the keyboard where her magnificent fingers shined through with incredible clarity and scintillating playing–there were gorgeous moments that made one’s heart melt.

Song Zuying, vocalist

Song Zuying, vocalist & Long Yu conducts the New York Philharmonic in a Chinese New Year celebration at Avery Fisher Hall, 2/1/14. Photo by Chris Lee

The Chinese conductor, Long Yu, holds many posts in his native land, where he is chief conductor of the China Philharmonic Orchestra which he co-founded in 2000, and music director of the Shanghai and Guangzhou symphony orchestras. Mr.Yu played a leading role in creating the Shanghai Orchestral Academy as a partnership between the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, the Shanghai Conservatory and the New York Philharmonic. Maestro Yu has commissioned many works from well-known composers–both Western and Chinese–as well as appearing with the world’s leading orchestras and opera companies.  His conducting was very confident, solid and professional.

 

After Intermission, we heard “Spring Festival Overture” by Li Huanzhi, composed in 1955-56, which opened the “China in New York Festival” in January of 2012 and was conducted by Maestro Yu. It is rather old-fashioned and Romantic, sounding like the music of Antonin Dvorak. The well-known violinist Cho-Liang Lin, born in Taiwan, did in fact perform the music of Dvorak: the lovely and subdued Romance for Violin and Orchestra in F minor, Op.11 (1873/77). Lin is a poetic, mature artist who lives up to his superb reputation. A wonderful surprise was the cellist Jian Wang (no relation to Juja Wang), who was brilliant, extremely musical, and sensitive in the “Variations on a Rococo Theme” for Cello and Orchestra, Op.33 (1876).  Wang has a gorgeous sound. It isn’t surprising to read that while a young student at the Shanghai Conservatory, he was featured in the documentary film “From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China”. Stern promptly selected him out of a large group of young musicians and got the support for him to study with the great teacher and cellist Aldo Parisot at the Yale School of Music.

Last on the program was vocalist Song Zuying . Wearing traditional dress, she sang Chinese folksongs which were well orchestrated and extremely well received–especially by the Chinese members of the audience, who understand this type of high-pitched nasal singing. She was clearly a big hit, and the orchestra had an encore ready for her, which was happily performed and applauded. I think if overtime had been allowed, each soloist could have given encores! It was a revealing concert that showed an important musical evolution: how Chinese artists have become solid interpreters of western music. I look forward to the Philharmonic’s next Chinese New Year Concert!