Taiwanese-American pianist Yi-heng Yang appeared in the final concert of the 25th spring series of Frederick Collection Historical Piano Concerts at the Community Church in Ashburnham, Mass., yesterday afternoon, June 6. Like her counterpart Shuann Chai, she chose to play some Robert Schumann in celebration of the bicentennial of his birth. However, Ms. Yang selected a very different instrument and music of its time: late Beethoven and early Schumann.
The Tröndlin grand piano, made in Leipzig in 1830, is not truly a German instrument, however, because its maker, Johann Nepomuk Tröndlin, studied piano building in Vienna and built his instruments following the Viennese model in the tradition of makers such as Conrad Graf. Tröndlin ran the piano building division of Breitkopf und Härtel from 1821 to 1824 and then created his own firm, which he sold in 1855; it closed around 1864. Mendelssohn favored these Tröndlins, and they were therefore the piano in the Gewandhaus for some years into the 1860s. Only 12 to 15 remain today.
Also like Chai, Yang has studied early piano performance extensively, indeed with some of the same individuals such as Malcolm Bilson and Stanley Hoogland, and in some of the same locales; she earned a Master’s summa cum laude in fortepiano at the Amsterdam Conservatory. Yang has performed on early instruments in festivals elsewhere, and in 2009 she premièred in NYC Jonathan Dawe’s single-movement Concerto for Fortepiano, Fragments and Fractals, written especially for her and based on material by Haydn and Hummel.
The afternoon’s program demonstrated that she was very sensitive to the differences in this instrument’s registers and controlled its volume appropriately and expertly. It has a deep, throaty bass, a warm, mellow middle, and a bright, somewhat tinkley upper registers (especially in the highest notes), offering a wide variety of clear, sharp tones, all of which can be produced from ppp to fff. An advantage of the Viennese action was the capacity for rapid repeats of a same note that other actions, such as the English, lacked.
The first half of the program was devoted to Beethoven: his 6 Bagatelles, Op. 126, from 1823-4, and his Sonata No. 31 in Ab, Op. 110, from 1820-2. The second half opened with Schumann’s Abegg-Variationen, Op. 1 of 1829-30 and closed with three of his 8 Noveletten, Op. 21, (Nos. 1, 8, and 2 in that order), of 1838. All of this music fit the instrument like a hand in a tailor-made glove. It often seemed as if the music had been composed for it. Some of the slow movements of the Beethoven works were heavenly, almost ethereal. The Schumann pieces were more virtuosic, and the pianist and the piano were both easily up to those demands. Yang played all but the Abegg Variations from scores, but clearly knew the music very well. In all cases, her touch was both precise and fluid. My sole complaint about the recital was its brevity; I wished that Yang had played all eight of the Schumann Noveletten in order, as she did the six Beethoven Bagatelles. A brief encore to acknowledge the audience’s enthusiastic standing ovation would also have been nice. We hope she returns to the series in future seasons, and will perhaps, following Chai’s practice, choose a different instrument and music of its period.