Wednesday, January 19, 2011

January with Ching-Yun Hu, Beethoven, Ravel & Carl Vine

This weekend, Market Square Concerts presents a recital by pianist Ching-Yun Hu at Whitaker Center – Saturday evening at 8pm.

The program includes sonatas by Beethoven and Australian composer Carl Vine, Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit and two works by Chopin - the Barcarolle in F-sharp Minor and the Polonaise in A-flat, Op. 53, usually known as the "Heroic" Polonaise.

Tickets (available in the downstairs lobby at Whitaker the night of the performance or by calling 717/214-ARTS) are $30, seniors $25, college & university students $5. Tickets for school-aged children are free! (Concert sponsor is Keefer Wood Allen & Rahal, LLP.)

Described as "dazzling" and called "a pianist with the soul of Chopin," Ching-Yun Hu captured the top prize at the 2008 Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv, where she was also awarded the Audience Favorite Prize, She then won the 2009 Concert Artists Guild International Competition.

Deeply impressed and equally moved by her artistry, a prominent music critic in Israel wrote, "This young woman brings with her the secret, the mystery and the style. She has the suspense of Brendel, Perahia's lyricism and Barenboim's depth. Are we witnessing the birth of a new Martha Argerich?"

Her Market Square Concerts program opens with one of Beethoven's earlier piano sonatas, published as Op. 2 in 1796, though several other, less daring works pre-date it. At the time, most sonatas were written for "household consumption" or the "amateur market." In an age when every young lady was expected to play the piano or sing, amateur (or, in German, "liebhaber") meant "having a love" for something compared to the professional, more knowledgeable expert (in German, "kenner" or "knower" of something) and, at least then, had no reflection on the level of talent involved.

Each of the three sonatas in this set, Opus 2, have different characters. This sonata was intended for the concert artist more than the household amateur, in days before famous concert artists roamed the halls of Europe performing for a living.

This brilliance – especially relying on Beethoven's skill as an improviser – may have accounted for the reservations Beethoven's teacher had about the pieces – and may also explain why Beethoven published these sonatas and not the earlier ones, their dedication to the old-fashioned Haydn notwithstanding. This dedication was a political formality as it was personal: Beethoven was then unknown but Haydn's name on the title page acted as a kind of endorsement.

Alfred Brendel plays the opening movement of Beethoven's C Major Piano Sonata, Op.2/3.
- - - - -

- - - - -

Carl Vine might be a slightly less familiar name to American audiences. Born in Perth, Australia, in 1954, he switched majors in college from physics to composition and began his career as a composer of music for the dance. He has gone on to become one of Australia's most prominent composers and wrote his 5th String Quartet in 2007, his 7th Symphony in 2008, and a Violin Concerto that will be premiered this year.

His 3rd Piano Sonata was composed in 2007. According to the composer's web-site,

- - - - -
This work is constructed in four sections that are to be played without breaks between them: fantasia – rondo – variations – presto.

The Fantasia introduces several ideas which reappear in various guises in all of the other movements, but also includes some undeveloped declamatory material. The Rondo explores a simple rhythmic motive while the Variations develop the chordal theme that opens the work. The Presto is a self-contained ternary structure that echoes thematic components from much that preceded it.

Piano Sonata NÂș 3 was commissioned by the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival and the Colburn School, assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body. The recipient of the 2004 Gilmore Young Artist Award, Elizabeth Schumann, gave the world premiere performance at Zipper Hall, Los Angeles, California on 11th May 2007.
- - - - -

Hearing the brief sample (go to his website, click on the "piano music" link in the introductory paragraph, scroll down till you see the information on the Piano Sonata No. 3 and click on the 'speaker icon'), it has the energy and edge that reminds me of, say, a Prokofiev toccata (I was thinking somewhere between the finales of the 3rd Piano Concerto and the 7th Sonata) with that kind of stylistic integrity that makes me wonder "why haven't we heard more of this guy's music?"

Speaking of toccatas, here's the second half of his 1st Piano Sonata: it'll give you an idea.

- - - - -

- - - - -

In addition to the two works by Chopin, a composer considered by many the "soul" of the Romantic repertoire, there is also one of the masterworks of early 20th Century piano music, Maurice Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit, first heard in 1909. The first of its three movements depicts the water-sprite, Ondine, who longs for human contact, a well-worn subject of 19th Century romanticism heard both in music (sometimes called Melusine, she's the subject of a tone-poem by Mendelssohn and, as Rusalka, an opera by Dvorak, among others) and literature (think Hans Christian Anderson's tale of the Little Mermaid). The middle movement is a dark and eerie landscape called "Le gibet" or "The Gallows" with its "bell tinting at the walls of a city under the horizon and the carcass of a hanged man reddened by the setting sun". The final movement evokes the ghostly goblin, Scarbo, who pirouettes and scampers through the darkened recesses of your home (or your mind) in the middle of the night – terrifying enough to play the piece!

Here is Vladimir Ashkenazy playing Scarbo.

- - - - -

- - - - -