Larry Weng in Review

Larry Weng in Review

The Stecher and Horowitz Foundation Presents New York International Piano Competition Laureate Pianist Larry Weng in Recital
SubCulture, New York, NY
November 19, 2015

Rainy November evenings may not be ideal for New York concertgoers, but when the concert includes several works by one of the leading composers in the U.S. (along with related mainstays of the repertoire) and is played by exceptional young pianist Larry Weng – and at a casual downtown venue with refreshments – the picture can change rapidly. I had a hunch that I might be rewarded for wading through endless puddles.

For starters, the program included piano works by U.S. composer Lowell Liebermann (b. 1961), a tantalizing prospect. Mr. Liebermann’s works are beautifully idiomatic for the instrument, as the composer himself is a pianist steeped in the keyboard tradition; in addition, Mr. Liebermann is so prolific that, despite his presence on many programs, one always has the sense of barely scratching the surface of his output. To see two substantial works of his on one program is not too frequent, but we had that chance here with Mr. Liebermann’s Three Impromptus, Op. 68 (2000), and his Four Etudes on Songs of Johannes Brahms, Op. 88 (2004) framing Intermission. Bookending these were the opening works, Four Impromptus, Op. 90 of Schubert and the Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13 of Schumann to close – a beautifully balanced combination of the familiar and the new, and with interesting connections among them.

Larry Weng is a musician whom I’d had the pleasure of reviewing previously with particular praise for his Schubert (Aldo Parisot presents Larry Weng in review). On this occasion, his Schubert Impromptus were as thoughtful and well wrought as anyone who heard his NY Debut would expect. Here, his interpretations seemed more orchestral than vocal in conception (complete with some left hand “conducting” during right hand solo lines). His playing illustrated well his own comment from the stage about Schubert’s accompaniments, coloring the same melodic tones differently on different iterations, with different ambiance. Each of the four pieces enjoyed a balance between local color and broad overview, showing polish and sensitivity. The fourth, though, must be singled out for a leggiero touch that went beyond lightness, not feathers but nanofibers – a treat to hear!

The Liebermann Impromptus that followed were introduced by Mr. Weng as possessing certain similarities to Schubert’s. It was ingenious programming by the artist, to engage the audience in such comparative listening – even if the title “Impromptu” leaves things wide open to enable “apples and oranges” comparisons. The Liebermann pieces are naturally quite different (as one would hope, given nearly two centuries’ time difference), exploiting the keyboard’s full range in register, tonality, and dynamics, with much virtuoso writing. Mr. Weng gave them highly compelling performances.

As for Schubertian parallels, more than any similarity to Schubert’s Impromptus, one was struck by an extended, transformed reference to Schubert’s Moment Musical No. 2 in A-flat Major at the beginning of the first Liebermann Impromptu (or so it seemed, without the aid of any Program Notes). From this Schubertian kernel, the music took off into great pianistic flights of imagination. Mr. Weng played it brilliantly, as he did all three. He left the audience in a stunned state at the set’s haunting ending.

After Intermission, we heard Mr. Liebermann’s Four Etudes on Songs of Johannes Brahms, Op.88 (2004), songs of great romance and longing. These seemed really more Brahms than Liebermann, but in either case were welcome, especially in such a soirée-type milieu (and as preludes to Schumann). The Brahms originals are stunningly beautiful, with texts of longing, loss, love, harps and violets, including “Muss es eine Trennung geben” (Op. 33, No. 12), “Es tönt ein voller Harfenklang” (Op. 17, No. 1), “An Ein Vielchen” (Op. 49, No. 2), and “Eine gute, gute Nacht” (Op. 59, No. 6). Anyone who has tried to transfer lieder from voice to solo piano knows what art is required, but Mr. Liebermann’s distribution of these melodies and accompaniments flying across registers appeared to be quite a challenge, more than justifying the title “Etudes.” Much of the originals’ beauty came across in Mr. Weng’s able hands.

Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13, capped off the evening with bravura, despite some glitches. Many pianists go a bit adrift in the Finale, but some messiness elsewhere could perhaps be chalked up to some excessive speed – or possibly a bit of fatigue from the many demands of the rest of the program. In any case, Mr. Weng is a pianist from whom one expects the best, and there were some great moments, particularly the “duet” right before the Finale. The closing spirit was robust, and a cheering audience elicited an encore of the Bagatelle No. 5 in G Major from one of the most moving sets by Beethoven, his Op. 126.

Big congratulations go to Larry Weng and to the Stecher and Horowitz Foundation for this memorable evening.


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.

 

 


James Jeonghwan Kim in Review

James Jeonghwan Kim, cello
Larry Wang, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall; New York, NY
February 3, 2013
James Kim

James Kim: Photo credit: Ryan Moon

There are debuts and debuts:  the blood bank of human endeavor is forever bringing new musical talent to the fore. But I daresay, the recital of a 19-year-old cellist at Weill Hall on February 3rd was more than merely excellent, it was an historical coming of a fully honed master virtuoso; one is compelled to formulate new standards for the golden instrument!

Young Mr. Kim came to us with formidable credentials. The young artist was born in Seoul, Korea in 1993 and began his studies with Susan Moses, with whom he worked for five years at the University of Indiana in Bloomington. During this time he also received tutelage from Janos Starker, and later from Laurence Lesser at the New England Conservatory. He also enrolled at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts, and is currently studying at Yale with Aldo Parisot. It goes without saying that during his apprenticeship to some of the most illustrious and revered pedagogues of his instrument, Mr. Kim has garnered competition prizes and performance laurels (e.g. The Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall; the NEC Youth Orchestra at Jordan Hall; the Korean Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra in his native South Korea– just to cite a few of his accomplishments–before making his official debut at Weill Hall).

But all of this foregoing is commonplace: after a few astonishing and beautifully tapered, long spun phrases of Schubert’s “Arpeggione” Sonata, D.821, this astonished and experienced connoisseur realized that James Kim is a miracle. Never mind my hyperbole; the absolute perfection of his playing, technically, musically and communicatively, had me recalling Casals, Fournier, Rostropovich and Tortelier (of a very different school) but likewise, Feuermann, Yo-Yo-Ma, Miklós Perényi, Heifetz (of a closely analogous virtuoso persuasion), and of course Kim’s mentors, Starker and Parisot. Never before, have I encountered such winged ease, such airborne joy, such silken smooth bowing and tone production. All of these facets were present at the service of stylistic knowledge, bracing rhythmic thrust and most importantly, an inviting warmth and modest honesty.

The Schubert Sonata was played with the first movement repeat, forward momentum and necessary flexibility. Kim’s assisting pianist, Larry Weng, a pupil of Boris Berman at Yale, supplied spot-on ensemble and concentration. He also won a “Brownie Point” by using the Barenreiter Edition, with its corrected harmonies in the central Adagio.

The Debussy D Minor Sonata that followed also had the requisite impetuosity and unpredictability. Altogether, a volatile, wonderfully shaded and exquisitely timed rendition from both protagonists.

Isang Yun’s short unaccompanied piece, “Glissees pour violoncello seul”, especially written for a competition in 1970, makes, as intended, fiendishly difficult demands on the player, but Kim mastered these hurdles as if they were child’s play.

The Mendelssohn D Major Sonata, Op. 58 (more frequently played than its predecessor, No. 1 in B-Flat) took off in a shower of gravel, a galloping interpretation (with pianist Weng as an ideal co-jockey).

There was an encore, too: Rostropovich’s Humoreske, which resembled David Popper’s “Elfentanz”, albeit with an unfamiliar, sinister spice.