Four years ago we heard Peter Fang, yet another technically deft, musically developing young pianist, concluding the keyboard part of the Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts 2015 music series with a recital that included an unmemorable read of the Brahms Paganini Variations, alongside other, better work.
Wednesday evening at NEC the Taiwan-born Fang showed complete and calm mastery over the piece, which almost never gets played that way, as well as similarly beautiful ownership of Brahms’s arrangement (lefthand) of the Bach Chaconne.
It is wonderful, and not so common, to see young artists develop like that. (The work young musicians put in today!)
Fang’s general approach bases itself on a rounded touch producing a subdued richness of sound and high musicality of phrasing and line. The grace differentiates him in an immediately distinct way from other young pianists on the international circuit whom I have auditioned. He handled the Chaconne with grave perfection, and not so much lack of accentuation as perhaps of overall level, resulting in the need to peer intently into the resonant polyphony. I wanted a decibel or two or more level, but Fang ravishingly conveyed the deeply felt transcription of a transcendent movement.
The Paganini Variations succeeded even more perfectly. I had never before known them to be so engaging as intricately composed music, passage after passage after passage (he played both books), Fang made the work into a greater musical landmark than it is. It’s rare one wants a live recording for relistening and study, but I must hear his performance again.
Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which opened the recital, met with mixed results to my ear, some more delicate and fine than anyone else’s, others on the brisk side, still others wan and even approaching (almost) the tepid. All had dry clarity. See what you think, here. It certainly is not like other versions. An example of almost all Fang’s interpretative characteristics may be heard in the racing variation 26, lovingly danced, also refinedly small-group-phrased, but ever so wayward, even weak, toward its end. Elsewhere could be heard occasional micro-slowdowns, a repeated failure to really play out, the artist preferring, always, his peculiar choice toward a rounded beauty. One oddity within the total experience of the set was not a few unusual ornaments, some comprising what I can describe only as halting line overlaps, and some other uncommon pauses—including a striking long one for the very last phrase, concluding the Aria.
Goldberg mavens in attendance responded strongly and more uniformly. One reported it had nearly produced tears. Another emailed afterward that “Fang plays with delicacy and less ‘big piano tone’ and wetness than others. Variation 2 seemed almost miraculously pure, bright, intellectual, at the same time brilliantly ornamented.”
Peter Fang’s measured and notably quiet and caring approach is a choice, as even his superb Hammerklavier of last summer showed. I mostly love it, and you should seek him out. His work is not like what any of us are used to.
David Moran has been an occasional Boston-area music critic for 50 years, with special interest in the keyboard.