Larry Weng may or may not have been in an actual hurry Monday night before and during his Walnut Hill recital in the Chinese Foundation for Performing Arts Festival. He presents as no-nonsense, sometimes tending to the brusque. If you’ve been listening to poky keyboard ponderosities, of course, vigor is welcome. But to my ear, this evening of Weng seldom exhaled. His quick tempos aside, long stretches simply felt as tense as held breath.
Weng introduced the pieces, proposing a Paris theme to the evening. Mozart K.310: the 22-year-old composer job-seeking there with his mother, who suddenly dies. Then the launch into a fast, rather flattened rendition of the Allegro maestoso (low in anger, among other things). The long Andante did begin to sing, a ways in, and by its bassy development Weng had the drama speaking movingly. The Presto reverted to nearly inflection-free playing.
Ravel prompted a Paris mention too. He composed Miroirs’s five impressionistic images for members of the composer’s posse. “Noctuelles” featured awfully large moths. “Oiseaux tristes” came fully to sad life, each bird demarcated and colored with great finesse. “Une barque sur l’océan” rippled and rocked, as beautifully painted as I have heard. “Alborada del gracioso” dawned expertly but a little tamely, until the erupting ending, which really did come up like thunder. “La vallée des cloches” evoked what it’s supposed to, though I’ve never heard a version that did not.
Schubert’s late A-major Sonata (D.959) faintly resumed that pressed, let’s-get-through-this vibe. The Allegro was not much measured, shaped, gently felt, as Weng is here. There were some flubs. Yet again things improved sharply. In the aching Andantino, the 30-year-old pianist abandoned himself, intently listening and deeply engaging as Schubert waltzes with death, and then, suddenly, that growing, terrifying discharge breaks in. The Scherzo’s trio hypnotized the space, but the surrounding music combined perhaps inapposite seriousness with passages of rushing. The Rondo was almost gruff from excess speed and tenseness. No matter what has preceded it, it’s still clearly song.
Weng encored with his own piano transcription of Mozart’s K.617 Adagio for glass harmonica, and it exhaled.
Based on the effective reflective moments in these three works, and his performance of last summer, I look forward to hearing Larry Weng again.
David Moran has been an occasional Boston-area music critic for 50 years, with special interest in the keyboard.