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Thursday, March 31, 2011


(Pic by Sarah Shatz: Ching-Yun Hu)

Brilliant young Taiwanese pianist delights Friends of Music audience. (Review by Michael Green)

The brilliant young Taiwanese pianist Ching-Yun Hu delighted a Friends of Music audience in the Durban Jewish Centre earlier this week with a performance of music that was partly familiar and partly off the beaten track.

At the age of 29 Ching-Yun has won many performing awards and has established an international reputation, with much praise from critics in Europe, the United States and Asia. It is easy to see and hear why. She is slight of figure and modest in demeanour, but her playing has great power and conviction.

She is now based in Germany but she is indisputably Chinese, and she is further evidence of the remarkable achievements of artists from the east in western classical music.

She opened with what was probably the best-known item on her programme, Mozart’s Sonata in D major, K. 576, one of the best of the master’s twenty piano sonatas. In this arresting work she showed a strong, almost forthright, tone, with admirable emphasis of the various voices in the contrapuntal passages of the first and third movements. The slow movement was played with limpid quality.

Then came a complete contrast: four of Liszt’s 55 transcriptions of Schubert songs. I suppose that a purist could argue that these elaborate and rhapsodic arrangements are far removed from the straightforward eloquence of the originals, but there is no doubt that they are compelling piano displays. Those chosen by Ching-Yun Hu were Aufenthalt (resting place), Auf dem wasser zu singen (To be sung on the water), Hark, hark, the lark, and Erlkonig (Erlking). She showed a massive technique, generating great power in the brilliant virtuoso passages.

Some rarely played music by Russians came after the interval. Two pieces from Tchaikovsky’s Eighteen Piano Pieces, Op. 72, composed in 1893, the year of his death, revealed an interesting touch of modernism in this most romantic of composers. And Rachmaninov’s Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 26, composed in 1913 and revised in 1931, was a big showpiece that was clearly intended to exhibit the composer’s great keyboard prowess. “Rachmaninov trying to outdo Liszt”, a member of the audience said to me drily.

It is an interesting composition, rather dense in texture but with some typical lyrical passages, and it was very well performed.

Ching-Yun gave an encore, Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat major Op. 55, No. 2, and this was played so beautifully that I was sorry that she had not included more Chopin in her programme.

The Prelude Performers of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, were the Breschi Recorder Group, young people trained by Sandra Breschi of Durban. Fourteen of them played an irresistible Hoe Down, an American country dance, by Brian Bonsor, a Scottish composer who died last month aged 84; and then three players played a Tango by the same composer. All very good, and much enjoyed by the audience and the performers. - Michael Green