And so the piano recital portion of the Chinese Performing Arts Foundation festival at Walnut Hill ended, with NEC senior Chuang-Chuang Peter Fang giving a slam-dunk performance in the smallish, loud Boswell Recital Hall. In the second half, featuring a pair of concertos, he was joined by pianist Chi-Wei Lo on the orchestral transcriptions.
From 1901, Ravel’s Jeux d’eau opener was immaculately dispatched, with sweep and ripple. Fang, of poised and pleasing mien, exhibits more winning confidence than most of his peers. He might have dialed down his oversized approach to this early Impressionist work and washed the score with more pastels.
Kenji Bunch’s Premonitions is a knockout. In it George Crumb, Györgys Kurtág and Ligeti, and Conlon Nancarrow have rounds of drinks with Oscar Peterson and Marcia Ball, and keyboard duets and duels ensue. I was dismayed I knew nothing about this deft veteran “New American music” composer, also a prominent violist. Fang’s playing was both immense and electric, also showing some of the aplomb of his current teacher Meng-Chieh Liu.
Brahms’s Paganini Variations closed the half, in a performance that were perhaps better skipped. While slower and quieter variations sounded impressively beautiful, the cluttered and clotted writing felt effortful, pushed, unlilting, and only partly because it was taken too fast, in the manner of a competition hotshot.
More Ravel, the jazzy 1931 Piano Concerto in G Major, began the second part of the evening. It featured strongly syncopated dash and, again, considerable flair—both pianists have genuine interest in jazz (Lo has even arranged and riffed on James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” though he isn’t rhythmically ready yet to join the band)—but could have been lit with more color and shading. The Adagio second movement in particular was monochromatic and wanted poetry, although it did get lovely by the end’s slow runs and righthand ostinato. It was surprising to hear that Lo as orchestral accompanist, whether leading or following Fang, frequently offered up more hues and gradations of touch. The Presto finale exploded in brilliance in all respects, dense with lightness and ultimately racing to the breathless ending, like a double vault routine whose ending the two young men positively stuck.
Even more thrilling was the Samuel Barber Piano Concerto, from 1962, which was once thought of as being in the same line as the Rachmaninoff five. An excellent pianist, Barber made a good living solely as a widely performed composer; this all-minor, often percussive concerto should be heard more often, I feel. It opens with a powerful solo, in which Fang might have shown more nuance, but its passionate effects, three-note spasms to be played with “arrogance,” were most striking and develop into a crescendo setup for the long, walking, spunout tune of the middle Canzone, a captivating movement that was written first. Serious deadline pressure produced the final movement, which Lo and Fang made into a perfectly synched powerhouse, rocking it in ways Ravel (who once asserted that composing was three-quarters intellectual) could only have dreamt about. Now the pair were like high-flying trapeze artists. Michael Steinberg: “An accelerando—con frenesia, Barber exhorts—heightens the excitement of the last half-minute, and the final, crunching cadence owes between something and everything to La Valse.” The final explosions of chords made for an effortless, utterly fitting conclusion to a rousing concert.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go spend some YouTube time finding more Bunch chunks.