You have got to hear Peter Chuang Chuang Fang play Beethoven’s Hammerklavier sonata.
The 26-year-old Taiwan-born pianist rolled out an interpretation of Opus 106 Monday night in his recital for the Walnut Hill Music Festival for the Chinese Performing Arts Foundation that sounded unusually musical, meaning at once probing and singing, at once tonally lovely and structurally lucid.
The opening Allegro “embraces both crowded polyphony and sweet cantabile, … not long, it seems huge” (Michael Steinberg). Fang nicely split the difference between the composer’s recommended tempo of impetuosity and the more customary treatment of declamation. It exploded in propulsion and drive, yet it also rang, restarts and all (Beethoven’s, not Fang’s). The little Scherzo following was jazz.
The immense Adagio “speaks in the languages of hymn and rapturous operatic song. Patches of modal harmony enter like voices from another world”. Fang floated intense cadences of unusual quiet, emphasizing this music’s unending quality, with a most engrossing interior lighting of lines and voices, such as one uncommonly hears (except when I heard Tony Yike Yang the previous evening, to an extent). However endless-feeling, it was kept moving, without fuss, without that sense of static dissection which other passage-scrutinizers convey.
And finally the Fugue, “music with pounding accents, reckless leaps, fierce dissonance, shattering rhythmic dislocations. But even here there is room for cantabile and dolcezza, for an interlude as serene as any page Beethoven ever wrote. To end, he returns to his original fugal material. The final sequences are spread across the bar lines with terrific tension”. Fang proceeded from strength to strength, moment to moment, serially juggling what sounds almost like separate pieces from different composers. (An Eastman pianist friend once noted it’s like wandering past practice rooms.) Yet even as the music goes off the rails, Fang managed the jarring events with less crashing and splintering than most, making it all the more beautiful and the more powerful.
The second half comprised Rachmaninoff’s 10 highly varied Opus 23 Preludes. They got served up rich and grand, albeit neither as clear nor as feathery in execution as the composer probably wanted. The young musician did masterfully gauge, and then display, their gorgeous hues. But I longed for a repeat of the first part. You have got to hear Peter Fang play the Hammerklavier.
David Moran has been an occasional Boston-area music critic for 50 years, with special interest in the keyboard.