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Larry Weng’s Layered Depths

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This was my third experience with the layered pianism of Larry Weng, who recitaled Friday evening at NEC’s Burnes Hall in the Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts summer series. Last summer’s offering was on the tense side, while the year before he demonstrated a rich and full musical mind translating into touch and interpretation. This year’s gratified likewise, though not everyone.

Weng opened with a Bach transcription sampler plate in the Grandest Style, more momentous Solomon than light Lipatti. Hess’s Jesu, Kempff’s Siciliano, Busoni’s Wachet Auf, all received great gravity and burl of tone. With Weng’s playing it sometimes feels like peering into one of those blue holes in the US, discerning layers and details, and then more. Only the Busoni S.734 Nun freut euch failed, being crazier-faster than usual, preposterous to the point of offense as some racecar loony tune. (One wonders how this came into being, with even the more refined versions, Horowitz to Jacobs, hardly avoiding cartoonishenss.)

A faint damper burr accompanying Weng’s micopedaling became slightly audible, and bothered at least a few audience members; I myself mostly took it part of the dramas.

Janáček penned his fantasia Sonata 1.X.1905 in response to the fatal bayoneting of an education protester. Even if its two movements, Foreboding and Death, are structured formally, it’s an anguished thing (naturally) written with little heed of conventional pianism, proceeding by small motives and repetitions. It noodles, yet its grim grip remained strong in Weng’s hands. His attention to vertical levels made it more stirring, if rather piecemeal, than this lyrical exemplar.

Similarly Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7. Weng turned it into richer, more wrenching drama than other more propulsively linear readings. The middle Andante caloroso tolled with magnificence, and the famous Precipitato, while driven in the normal ways, was fuller of detail and even color. Weng did not quite stick the notorious ending, but that did not matter.

Weng speaks articulately about his choices, and presents with a refreshing, sometimes brusque, athlete’s get-to-it demeanor. His persona may look unpoetic. I appreciate his work and his style, but I spent some time after this evening thinking about the sometimes comparatively subdued responses his playing receives, including for this recital. Also because reliable keyboard colleagues found little of what I find—little hearing of his interior depths and levels, nor of burnished tone. What does Weng lack?, I asked myself. Songful lines? Equally weighted voicings of chords and polyphony? (What a fancy teacher of mine called ‘democratic gravity’.) An even fineness, and unusual delicacy of touch? A chiseled, or alternatively etched, approach to large or congested passagework? Forward motion, rhythmic strength, propulsive determination? Finally, quietude, and refined savoring? These to my ear are altogether present, so I do not know. Maybe a mentor or a manager will hector Larry Weng about “poeticality,” about looking far ahead with more topline leading. About manifesting inspiration, conveying sweep to inspire audiences.

Schubert’s “late” D.894 G-major Sonata is longer and arguably stranger than his other long strange trips. Even the composer’s pals knew that the music “comes into existence during a state of clairvoyance or somnambulism” and “modulates so oddly and so very suddenly.” Weng got it all: enriched theatricality, the usual violent outbursts, serious, sprightly mirth, the aching modulations as always, and all with a quiet close.

The encore let Weng slouch into lounge mode with Debussy waltzing at his loungiest with (my translation) “The Way Slow.”

David Moran has been an occasional Boston-area music critic for 50 years, with special interest in the keyboard.

5 Comments »

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  1. David what is “micopedaling?” I did a Google search and was directed to this review. I checked “micropedaling”and found references to guitar pedals,but none involving pianos. Is this a typo? If you are referring to micro pedals, how do they relate to piano recitals?
    The crowd was smaller than at other events I have attended in this year’s series. I don’t know how the audience overall felt about Weng’s playing. I thought that his playing was superb. I am not an expert on pianists as are you, but I have heard a lot of piano recitals. This was one of the best I have ever heard, comparable to what one might hear in the Celebrity Series of Boston. In this instance I feel that your piano colleagues weren’t that reliable. I wouldn’t have described Weng’s qualities as you do, but I agree that they were there. Schubert’s works can sometimes drag, but Weng had me in his grip from start to finish during the Schubert Sonata.It is difficult to imagine a better interpretation of that piece.

    Comment by Bennett — August 19, 2019 at 11:29 pm

  2. That was just my casual term for finely gradated and excursion-controlled damper pedaling, entailing considerable skill in the timing and the levels of depression attack and and release with the playing of the notes. (That’s a kludgy description!) Apologies for confusion. Perhaps a veteran pianist can chime in with succinct idiom.

    As for the rest of your responses, I largely concur in them, and hoped to convey some of that. I could have written twice as long, particularly about his work in D.894. I would refer you to my earlier reviews, https://www.classical-scene.com/2017/07/28/larry-weng/ and https://www.classical-scene.com/2018/08/02/larry-weng-2/ .

    Thanks.

    Comment by davidrmoran — August 20, 2019 at 12:45 am

  3. Another term is flutter pedaling achieved with less downward pressure on the sustain pedal translating to the damper felts barely hovering over the strings, this in combination with skilled use of the uni corda pedal might be construed as micropedaling in addition we haven’t even explored the minutiae of usage of the sostenuto pedal.

    Comment by Martin Snow — August 20, 2019 at 7:45 am

  4. I may have coined term “micropedaling” on these pages as early as 2014 as a verbal comment to David at a Russell Sherman concert. He quoted me in his review.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — August 20, 2019 at 11:13 am

  5. https://www.classical-scene.com/2014/05/12/sherman-purple-haze-brain/

    Comment by davidrmoran — August 20, 2019 at 11:53 am

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