Piano Recital: Claire Huangci
Scarlatti / Chopin / Rachmaninoff
Tonhalle Maag, Zurich, 2019-03-01
2019-03-04 — Original posting
Chance und Erfolg beim Einspringen für einen erkrankten Kollegen — Zusammenfassung
Für Claire Huangci war das Angebot, an Stelle des erkrankten Seong-Jin Cho ein Solo-Recital in der Tonhalle Maag zu geben, eine grosse Chance, aber auch eine Herausforderung. Die Chance: neues Publikum, das eigentlich einen anderen Solisten erwartete und sie deshalb möglicherweise noch nicht kannte.
Die Herausforderung: auf die Schnelle ein interessantes Konzert-Programm zusammenzustellen, sich dabei auf Repertoire beschränkend, das sie gerade präsent hat. Claire Huangci ließ sich davon jedoch nicht beirren: mit sicherer Hand wählte sie ein technisch wie musikalisch anspruchsvolles Programm, bot für Auge und Ohr ein Schaustück sondergleichen. Das Publikum war begeistert, dankte mit einem langen Applaus—zumal nach den zwei Zugaben von Friedrich Gulda, darunter die hinreißend-jazzige Toccata.
Claire Huangci war voll konzentriert auf die Musik, sie lebte die Musik! Sie beeindruckte mit ihren harmonischen Armbewegungen, den eleganten Gesten, ihren technisch-musikalischen Fähigkeiten, dem hohen Tempo, der Beweglichkeit ihrer Finger, der ausgeprägten Artikulation. Sie stellte sich ganz in den Dienst der Musik—ohne Show: es war pures Vergnügen, ihr Spiel zu verfolgen!
- Setting, Venue, Audience…
- D. Scarlatti: 4 Keyboard Sonatas (K.29, K.208, K.435, K.443)
- Chopin: Nocturnes op.9/3, op.48/1
- Rachmaninoff: Morceaux de fantaisie, op.3 — No.2, Prélude in C♯ minor
- Rachmaninoff: 10 Préludes, op.23
- Chopin: 24 Préludes, op.28
- Encore 1 — Gulda: Suite for Piano, E-Piano and Drums — III. Aria (in stile italiano)
- Encore 2 — Gulda: Play Piano Play — Exercise No.6, Toccata
- Claire Huangci’s CDs, covering all but the encores and Chopin’s Préludes, op.28:
This piano recital in Zurich’s Tonhalle Maag was part of the Neue Konzertreihe Zürich (New Concert Series Zurich), organized by Hochuli Konzert AG. The original announcement called for the Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho (*1994, see also Wikipedia) performing a program featuring works by Bach, Schubert, Chopin, and Mussorgsky. Seong-Jin Cho won the first prize at the 2015 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. Unfortunately, two days prior to the recital, Seong-Jin Cho had to cancel his appearance due to illness. We wish him a fast recovery and hope to hear him in concert sometime in the near future!
Luckily, this turned out not to be a disaster! At very short notice, the American pianist Claire Huangci (*1990, see also Wikipedia) was able to step in. I do not need to introduce the artist, as I have already witnessed Claire Huangci’s playing in two solo recitals, on 2015-02-10 and on 2018-11-20 (both times at ETH in Zurich), as well as in two orchestral concerts in the Tonhalle Zurich, on 2018-10-20 and 2018-12-02.
For the artist, such a “last-minute substitute recital” is both an opportunity, as well as a challenge. The opportunity is that this brings the artist into contact with audience that originally booked cards for a different artist—who would not like such extra promotion? The challenge is that there isn’t much time for rehearsing. Typically, the artist therefore will resort to repertoire that was performed in recent concerts/recitals, or recently recorded, or which are about ready to be added to the concert repertoire.
For the listener, this means that in such situations one cannot expect to hear all-new repertoire. Claire Huangci isn’t at the stage yet where she commands over a huge repertoire and can pull multiple novel recital programs out of her sleeve which she hasn’t performed or recorded recently. And in such short-term arrangements, artists are unlikely to present new or experimental parts of their repertoire. By no means do I want to belittle Claire Huangci’s achievement—resorting to proven repertoire is inevitable in such last-minute arrangements. Plus, the program that Claire selected is highly demanding, both technically and musically, so I was really looking forward to hearing her in this recital!
Here is what Clair Huangci chose to play:
- Domenico Scarlatti (1585 – 1757): 4 Sonatas (K.443, K.208, K.29, and K.435)
- Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849): 2 Nocturnes —
- Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943): No.2, Prélude in C♯ minor, from Morceaux de fantaisie, op.3
- Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943): Préludes 1 – 7 from 10 Préludes, op.23
- Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849): 24 Préludes, op.28
The four Scarlatti sonatas also opened the last recital on 2018-11-20—though for a different and much smaller audience. All of these are also part of her 2014 recording of 39 sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti.
The artist then added two Nocturnes by Chopin—in 2016, she has recorded all of Chopin’s 22 Nocturnes.
So far, Claire has not recorded Chopin’s 24 Préludes, op.28—though, at least a subset of these must be part of many pianist’s education and repertoire. So far, I only heard Claire Huangci play one piece from this set, the Prélude No.15 in D♭ major, also known as “Raindrop Prélude”. This was back in her recital at ETH, on 2015-02-10.
Setting, Venue, Audience…
I did not expect the Tonhalle Maag to be full for this recital: very few pianists may fill a big concert hall in Zurich. Still, I was happy for the pianist to see that the audience was amazingly big in this concert. Her win at the 2018 Géza Anda Competition in Zurich is an obvious explanation for her popularity (given the strong linkage of that competition to the area). Plus, of course, those who have ever heard Claire Huangci perform (live or though media) would be eager to hear her in concert again.
My wife and I booked two seats in the podium gallery, on the “other” side of the artist. We were sitting in the first row, on the left side of the hall (at the right edge from our position). We had attended concerts from that area of the hall before, so we know that there is very little, if any acoustic disadvantage in sitting there. Plus, in contrast to most seats in the hall, we could not only watch the pianist’s hands, but even had a good view onto her left hand, and one could even often observe Claire Huangci’s right hand, as reflected image above the keyboard.
D. Scarlatti: 4 Keyboard Sonatas (K.29, K.208, K.435, K.443)
It‘s not the first time that Claire Huangci chose to open her recital with keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti (1685 – 1757): she did the same in both her earlier solo recital that I attended. On 2015-02-10, she started her program with seven assorted sonatas, all in G major. Last time (2018-11-20), she selected the following sonatas:
- K.443 in D major: Allegro
- K.208 in A major: Adagio e cantabile
- K.29 in D major: Presto
- K.435 in D major: Allegro
In these four sonatas, Claire Huangci wasn’t just looking for “variety”. Rather, she took four sonatas and combined them to form a kind of “hyper-sonata”, see also my earlier review. The term “hypersonata” isn’t my invention—I took this as analogy to the “Hypersuites” which the Russian pianist Marina Baranova (*1981) presented in a piano recital on 2017-10-10. In her Hypersuites, Marina Baranova arranged (adapted or re-composed) and linked baroque pieces into novel suites. The combination step is the only analogy, though, as Claire Huangci performs Scarlatti’s sonatas in their original form, side-by-side.
I now didn’t just have the background of Claire Huangci’s Scarlatti performance in two solo recitals (see above), but I also have listened through her 2014 recording of 39 sonatas, including all of the above. Expectedly, I have very little to add on top of my review on her performance of these sonatas last November: my memory is not photographically accurate to tell about possible, minute (definitely negligible) changes over these three months, so see my earlier review for additional comments—these are all still fully valid.
Let me just summarize my extensive listening experience with Claire Huangci’s Scarlatti recording. I concede that I favor Scarlatti on the harpsichord: maybe with the exception of some of the latest sonatas, that only gets us close to what the composer could possibly have imagined when writing this music. Of course, I can hardly deny a pianist performing Scarlatti on the modern concert grand—particularly as this has a fairly long history, starting with pianists such as Vladimir Horowitz (1903 – 1989).
My skepticism remains, though, and it can easily turn into rejection when a pianist expands Scarlatti into a romantic, if not post-romantic soundscape, with dynamic excesses, and exploiting all of the possibilities of a modern grand piano (talking from experience!).
Claire Huangci’s Scarlatti Recording (A Quick Look)
First: the recording is from 2014 (published 2015), i.e., around the time when I heard Claire Huangci for the first time, in her recital on 2015-02-10, when she started with Scarlatti sonatas. Listening through her entire recording now not only left me baffled about her technical clarity, agility, transparency, etc., but equally about her careful, light and detailed articulation, the subtlety in her dynamics.
It amazes how wisely she limits her use of the possibilities of the modern instrument: very restricted dynamics and tempo variations, little or no sustain pedal. Claire Huangci’s technical prowess, the speed and agility of her fingers, the accuracy of her articulation are stupendous. Yet, I never have the impression that her playing is pure (hollow) virtuosity, let alone mere show: her Scarlatti is playful, pure joy and fun—and an immense listening pleasure that I never seem to get tired of!
As a detailed review of Claire Huangci’s complete recording is way beyond the scope of this posting, I can just say: this is one of the best Scarlatti on the modern piano that I have ever heard, and I can only warmly recommend this recording!
It was pure pleasure and joy to watch Claire Huangci playing on stage: her harmonious, swaying arm and body movements, the elegant gestures (no, not showing off, for sure!), how the keyboard seemed to launch her hands and forearms up into the air. As outlined above, I don’t want to repeat my remarks from last year’s recital, but rather (also) add a few remarks that relate the concert performance to the artist’s 2014 recording, which may enable readers to position Claire’s interpretation relative to her commercial recording.
Sonata in D major, K.443: Allegro
The difference to the recording was very evident, right from the beginning. The tempo was faster, very fluent, the dynamics more gentle, yet, she retained the transparency & clarity in articulation which so much characterize her Scarlatti (and her playing in general). At the same time, her playing showed more freedom in agogics, which must reflect both the 4 years since the studio recording, as well as the live concert situation.
Sonata in A major, K.208: Adagio e cantabile
A slow sonata with beautiful, long phrases / arches. In Claire’s performance, this was really gentle, lovely, and very lyrical, atmospheric, serene: more than one could possibly achieve on a harpsichord. The performance demonstrated (rare) advantages of the concert grand over the harpsichord in such music—without romantic exaggeration / excesses!
Sonata in D major, K.29: Presto
I felt that this sonata was even (!) substantially faster than in the 2014 recording. At the same time, it seemed more capricious, more impulsive, more free and fluent, while retaining clarity: fascinating, enthralling!
Sonata in D major, K.435: Allegro
My impression in comparison to the 2014 recording was that Claire Huangci has gained technical superiority, as well as additional freedom in the interpretation. She plays faster, is less schematic / strict, enjoys more flexibility in agogics and phrasing. And I had the distinct impression that she (understandably) had more fun in this live performance. In parts, that’s of course a result that one would expect (for most artists, at least) when comparing a live concert with a studio recording.
Given that I had listened to Claire Huangci’s recording beforehand, I did not follow the performance with a score. Still, as far as I could tell, the artist omitted the repeats in these sonatas—which is understandable, given the amount of challenging music yet to follow.
Chopin: Nocturnes op.9/3, op.48/1
Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849) has written 22 Nocturnes. As mentioned, Claire Huangci has recorded them all. In his recital, she selected one of Chopin’s first set of three Nocturnes (op.9), followed by the first of the two Nocturnes op.48:
- Nocturne No.3 in B♭ major, op.9/3, CT 110, from 1830 – 1832, has the annotation Allegretto — Agitato — Tempo I
- Nocturne No.13 in C minor, op.48/1, CT 120, from 1841, with the tempo annotations Andantino — Più lento — Doppio movimento
Nocturne No.3 in B♭ major, op.9/3, CT 110
At first, Claire Huangci’s performance seemed on the fast side—however, she stayed close to the composer’s annotation Allegretto, and the given metronome number (3/8=66). Within the fluent tempo, she enriched the phrasing with agogics, while maintaining the flow (she did not spend extensive time on fermatas). The music was very atmospheric, serene, gentle, while her fingers seemed to fly over the keyboard in the many arabesques. The dynamics remained moderate, in line with the gentle tone—even the con forza in the two descending cascades in the Allegrettopart remained delicate, differentiated.
Claire Huangci’s left hand in the central Agitato part (in split time / alla breve) did justice to the annotation! Within this agitation, she retained the cantabile quality in the right hand, where she formed a long phrasing arch up to the ff climax.
A beautiful, very atmospheric, coherent interpretation without exaggerated emphasis in dynamics and rubato, with an extremely subtle and delicate ppp ending—excellent, throughout!
Nocturne No.13 in C minor, op.48/1, CT 120
A short pause (without applause, of course) led into the completely different, reflective atmosphere of the C minor Nocturne: Claire Huangci maintained the complete calm in the slowly pulsating left hand. She started all mezza voce, then gently leading the Lento part into a harmonious climax, gradually building up emphasis—without losing the steady (though flexible) pulse in the left hand.
A completely natural transition led into the central Poco più lento part in C major: starting entirely relaxed, forming an initial dynamic arch through the extensive, wide arpeggiandi. After a short transition, the semiquaver triplets seemed to lean forward, building up drama, up to a broad, grandiose ff climax. The C minor tonality returns—but the triplets persist, now in quavers, again building up to a final ff climax.
Other pianists may offer performances with more emphasis and drama, with elaborate, extensive rubato and agogics; Claire Huangci’s interpretation felt compelling, was devoid of exaggeration, retaining utmost structural clarity. Definitely a very valid view that doesn’t need to shy away from comparisons with the very top artists in the field!
Rachmaninoff: Morceaux de fantaisie, op.3 — No.2, Prélude in C♯ minor
In analogy to Chopin’s 24 Préludes op.28, Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943) wrote 24 Préludes, also covering all major and minor keys. Unlike Chopin, though, Rachmaninoff started off in 1892, with a single Prélude, as number 2 from his Morceaux de fantaisie, op.3, featuring
- Elégie in E♭ minor, op.3/1
- Prélude in C♯ minor, op.3/2
- Melody in E major, op.3/3
- Polichinelle in F♯ minor, op.3/4
- Serenade in B♭ minor, op.3/5
11 years later (1903), Rachmaninoff followed up with a set of 10 Préludes, op.23, see below. Finally, in 1910, he completed the set of 24, filling in the missing tonalities with his 13 Préludes, op.32 from 1910. As mentioned, Claire Huangci has recorded all of Rachmaninoff’s 24 Préludes, just recently, in 2018.
To the composer’s dismay (he rated some of his later Préludes much higher), the Prélude in C♯ minor appeared to be the most popular of the set of 24—and it very likely still enjoys this reputation. Allegedly, op.3/2 at some point was so popular that Rachmaninoff grew tired of it and “wished he had never written it”.
The initial “A – G♯ – C♯” motif, ff and marcato, sets the tone for the first part. In Claire Huangci’s interpretation, it gradually lost its dramatic character, finally ebbing away into ppp over the Lento introduction. The right hand, in contrast, started ppp, in a retained, melancholic, lyrical mood, building up to a gentle, still lyrical climax.
Claire Huangci proved to have excellent control over the dynamics. In that introduction the dynamics seemed to be closely linked to the rubato. In the latter, accelerando seemed to correlate with a subtle crescendo (followed by a slight decrescendo in the ritardando). The correlation “louder (or: more intense) = faster” is something that I usually regard a bad habit—here, however, it seemed to fit the character of the music. Definitely, the rubato was of course not accidental, but consciously and carefully shaped.
The Agitato part built up to an impressive fff climax with its triplet cascade. Claire Huangci’s interpretation was very impressive, but devoid of excess drama and pathos. The latter is built into the score, when the introductory motif majestically returns at utmost vigor, as the annotations sfff, fff pesante, and even sffff indicate. Rachmaninoff wrote this on four systems!
Here, Claire Huangci convincingly demonstrated that at the upper end, her dynamic span extends to astounding volume, exploiting the capacity of the Steinway D-274 concert grand. At all time, however, she kept the dynamics under control, never exceeded the limits where the sound would start to show distortions.
Rachmaninoff: 10 Préludes, op.23
In his second set, in 1903, Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943) presented the following 10 Préludes, op.23, seven of which Claire Huangci selected for her recital:
- F♯ minor: Largo
- B♭ major: Maestoso
- D minor: Tempo di minuetto
- D major: Andante cantabile
- G minor: Alla marcia
- E♭ major: Andante
- C minor: Allegro
- A♭ major: Allegro vivace
- E♭ minor: Presto
- G♭ major: Largo
Claire Huangci performed these seven Préludes as continuation of op.3/2—a linkage which appeared natural and logical, despite the 9 years between op.3 and op.23:
Prélude No.1 in F♯ minor: Largo
With a gentle and almost harmless beginning, the first Prélude from op.23 builds up to a gentle, broad climax, with gradually growing technical demands.
As Claire Huangci explained in a promotion video for the CD with the Rachmaninoff Préludes, one particular challenge with that composer was that she has now here near Rachmaninoff’s finger span of a twefth (!). She claims to have “very small hands”. She stated that she refuses to leave out keys, and so she was facing the challenge of hiding the discrepancy in finger span.
Our seating position gave me a chance to observe how she managed this difficulty. And indeed, with the obvious exception of the arpeggiated last three bars, one had to watch very carefully—just for an occasional glimpse at an arpeggiated chord in the left hand (e.g., around the climax in this Prélude). For the ear, however, these instances were totally inconspicuous, pretty much throughout the performance. Amazing!
Prélude No.2 in B♭ major: Maestoso
Majestic, indeed—and rhapsodic! At the same time, Claire Huangci’s interpretation also showed the lyrical aspects in this highly virtuosic piece, in the slightly melancholic melody that hides in the right hand, or (even more so) in the flowing semiquaver chord chains that follow the introductory first part. After these chains, the Prélude builds up to the second half, featuring a relentless chain of highly virtuosic passages, with the triumphant return of the initial theme. Grandiose, indeed—both as a composition, as well as a performance!
Prélude No.3 in D minor: Tempo di minuetto
Clear, transparent, very differentiated, and never over-pedalized, nor excessively romantic. The composer seemed benign by writing explicit arpeggiando chords in the left hand—occasionally. Still, there are enough situations where a large finger span seems necessary—I tried watching out for “workarounds”—however, I could hardly see extra arpeggios in Claire Huangci’s left hand. Obviously, after recording all of the composer’s Préludes, the artist is intimately familiar with Rachmaninoff’s music!
Prélude No.4 in D major: Andante cantabile
Wonderful, lyrical, with intensely singing cantilenas, impressive, long dynamic / phrasing arches with a broad, expressive climax. A piece that I could listen to forever!
Prélude No.5 in G minor: Alla marcia
One of Rachmaninoff’s most popular, most catchy Préludes: both virtuosic and expressive. The artist presented another impressive, stunning performance, with a seamless, natural transition to the Un poco meno mosso part. The latter seems lyrical—it is nevertheless highly challenging as well. The transition back to the initial theme is somewhat tricky, in that it easily gives the impression of a slowly accelerating, heavy steam locomotive. In my view, Claire Huangci successfully avoided that trap. Her tempo—and that in most or all Préludes—was demanding: she did not soften the technical challenges in this music by moderating the tempo.
Prélude No.6 in E♭ major: Andante
Lyrical, singing—and seemingly easy: possibly the Prélude that is closest to Chopin’s contribution to the genre. Certainly (and luckily), Claire Huangci did not overload the piece with romanticism.
Prélude No.7 in C minor: Allegro
Blazingly fast in the semiquaver chains, to the point where the fast figures started to blur. This, on the other hand, had the advantage that it made the dialog between the melody fragments in the upper and lower extremes stand out more. Very impressive!
Amazingly, Claire Huangci performed the eight Préludes (including op.3/2) essentially attacca, with at most a 2 – 3 second delay (if any!) between the pieces. A most noteworthy achievement, given Rachmaninoff’s often exhausting, power-draining scores! I don’t think it was just my impression that the artist was faster than in her own CD recordings in most or all of the pieces (including those by the other composers).
Chopin: 24 Préludes, op.28
Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849) published his set of 24 Préludes, op.28 in 1839. He did write three additional pieces in this genre: Prélude in C♯ minor, op.45; Prélude in A♭ major (1834), and a Prélude in E♭ minor (unfinished). The main set—selected by Claire Huangci for the last part of her recital—includes the following pieces:
- C major: Agitato
- A minor: Lento
- G major: Vivace
- E minor: Largo
- D major: Molto allegro
- B minor: Lento assai
- A major: Andantino
- F♯ minor: Molto agitato
- E major: Largo
- C♯ minor: Molto allegro
- B major: Vivace
- G♯ minor: Presto
- F♯ major: Lento
- E♭ minor: Allegro
- D♭ major: Sostenuto; this is sometimes called “Raindrop Prélude“—though that attribution by Hans von Bülow (1830 – 1894) has no real background whatsoever.
- B♭ minor: Presto con fuoco
- A♭ major: Allegretto
- F minor: Molto allegro
- E♭ major: Vivace
- C minor: Largo
- B♭ minor: Cantabile
- G minor: Molto agitato
- F major: Moderato
- D minor: Allegro appassionato
I’m not going into more detail here—more information is available in an earlier posting, where I have compared several recordings of Chopin’s 24 Préludes, op.28. Also, as this posting is getting long, I’m keeping my performance comments short.
The grouping below is just to help the readability—Claire Huangci essentially performed all 24 Préludes without interruption, attacca:
Préludes Nos. 1 – 6
No.1, C major: agitated, but in gentle waves, with distinct rubato
No.2, A minor: pensive, reflective—Claire Huangci appeared to listen into the keyboard. Excellent dynamic balance between melody and accompaniment. Expressive shaping of the melody line, though dynamics and careful rubato.
No.3, G major: very fluent, clear and agile in the left hand, seemingly independent, careful phrasing in the right hand: love it!
No.4, E minor: another piece where the artist excelled in her control over agogics and rubato—avoiding all exaggerations. Maybe occasionally almost too metric in the quaver figures?
No.5, D major: one of the technically more demanding pieces in op.28; the artist hands and arms were dancing at / above the keyboard.
No.6, B minor: Claire Huangci avoided excess pathos, kept the music relatively simple (not lightweight, though), with the appropriate focus on the melody in the bass.
Préludes Nos. 7 – 12
No.7, A major: dreamy, simple, but not slow (properly Andantino!)
No.8, F♯ minor: The artist played with “flying fingers”, relaxed and playful in the arms: fast, to the point where the demisemiquaver figures started blurring. However, the key point here was the focus, the careful phrasing and articulation in the melody in the middle of the keyboard.
No.9, E major: expectedly excellent in phrasing and dynamics—without excessive pathos and grandeur.
No.10, C♯ minor: fast, with glittering semiquaver cascades. Simple.
No.11, B major: seemingly simple also this one—certainly, when thinking back to the pieces prior to the intermission!
No.12, G♯ minor: virtuosic, playful, with focus on the bigger phrases.
Préludes Nos. 13 – 18
No.13, F♯ major: subtle, gentle, with very nice agogics / phrasing. The transition to the Piú lento was surprising, but nevertheless natural. Even more so (and absolutely seamless) the transition back to Tempo I.
No.14, E♭ minor: fast, smooth, a grumbling menace —
No.15, D♭ major: natural, not overly complicated, not excessively stretched out and celebrated, as in so many other interpretations. This also helped shaping the overall phrasing arch. I think the tempo still properly fitted the Sostenuto annotation
No.16, B♭ minor: dramatic, very fast—a little too fast? Claire Huangci took the running semiquavers (properly) as mere accompaniment to the chord sequence in the left hand, so the slightly right-hand blurred articulation must have been intentional.
No.17, A♭ major: focus on the phrasing arches, the expression. Subtle, avoiding harsh contrasts.
No.18, F minor: very fast, very virtuosic—a little too fast for a Prélude, maybe?
Préludes Nos. 19 – 24
No.19, E♭ major: highly agile, with jumping hands—a finger stretching exercise in its own right? Smooth playing, despite the challenges.
No.20, C minor: the “dynamic smoothing” in bar 5 (transition to p) is not evident from the notation—but it felt perfectly OK. I definitely liked the subtle ritenuto and the subsequent pp bars.
No.21, B♭ minor: a rather fluent tempo: this looked playful, but definitely is technically anything but easy. What a subtle ending!
No.22, G minor: short, highly virtuosic—but devoid of exaggerations, not show, rather expressive and dramatic.
No.23, F major: lovely, enchanting, serene, beautiful…
No.24, D minor
Claire Huangci closed the op.28 with a very fast final Prélude. The end of the recital was nearing, and so, the tempo may have been slightly too fast: I noted occasional rhythmic smoothing (punctuations), maybe occasional, slight superficialities in the right hand. But who would be bothered about this at the end of such an impressive recital?
Encore 1 — Gulda: Suite for Piano, E-Piano and Drums — III. Aria (in stile italiano)
Claire Huangci also “carried over” the two encores from her last solo recital in Zurich, on 2018-11-20. Given that this last recital was for a different and rather small audience, the repeat wasn’t a “cheap solution” at all (I’m usually skeptical about artists using the same encore over and over again)—quite to the contrary! It’s more than understandable that Claire wants to present other facets of her rich musical personality. Plus, the encores are definitely worth a listen. I’m adapting some of my comments on the music from my earlier review:
The Austrian Pianist Friedrich Gulda (1930 – 2000) was also a rather unconventional composer. From his Suite for Piano, E-Piano and Drums, Claire Huangci performed the third movement, “Aria (in stile italiano)” in a version for piano solo. It’s serene, peaceful, calm music, close to baroque style, full of playful ornaments, arabesques. Harmonically, however, it definitely shows strong influences from popular music, and it may reach the limits of sweetness. On the other hand, that’s one of the features which makes it so typical of Gulda, who didn’t care about conventions and standards.
I can only repeat from my previous review: thanks for reminding us of a great artist of the last century. Is it really already close to 20 years since he is gone?? One could almost see Gulda sitting at the piano, with his knitted cap, gleaning into the audience through his tinted glasses! In view of this strong reminiscence, any discussion on whether that music is shallow becomes secondary!
Encore 2 — Gulda: Play Piano Play — Exercise No.6, Toccata
This is another quote from my earlier review: The final encore was again by Friedrich Gulda. This time, Claire Huangci selected a virtuosic piece from Gulda’s collection “Play Piano Play“, a set of Jazz exercises. Exercise No.6 is a Toccata, annotated “Presto possibile“. It’s a short piece that—even within its small dimensions—reminds of the perseverance and virtuosity of the Toccata in D minor, op.11 by Sergei Prokofiev (1891 – 1953). In addition, it adds a Jazz component with drive and a strong “Boogie feeling”.
Of course, Claire knew very well that her second and last encore would “work”—it’s a true, enthralling “last dance”! Claire Huangci threw all her engagement, virtuosity, paired with a strong Jazz feel in this music—and the result was fascinating, indeed, as one could easily see from the enthusiasm in the applause!
I don’t have much to add here: it was a most rewarding and enjoyable concert experience—congrats to the artist!
Just one thought in the aftermath: while listening to Chopin’s op.28, I asked myself whether from a musical point-of-view it would not have been far better to place the op.28 right after the two Nocturnes. In other words: performing all of Rachmaninoff’s Préludes after the intermission. I know that this has a serious impact on the artist’s “power management”, which may have been the reason to select the given order. However, compared to Rachmaninoff’s Préludes, the ones in op.28 are not only less challenging, but also shorter throughout. The overpowering impression from Rachmaninoff’s Préludes made Chopin’s feel lightweight, short and simple—which definitely is unjust. Reversing the order would have done justice to both composers. That does not affect Claire Huangci’s achievement—it’s merely a thought on the programming.
Unless noted otherwise (initial press photo), all of the pictures above are © Lea Kyburz, all rights reserved.
Claire Huangci’s CDs, covering all but the encores and Chopin’s Préludes, op.28:
Domenico Scarlatti — 39 Sonatas
Claire Huangci, piano
Berlin Classics 0300603BC (2 CDs, stereo); ℗ / © 2015
Booklet 35 pp., de/en
Sergei Rachmaninoff — The Préludes
Claire Huangci, piano
Berlin Classics 0301075BC (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 2018
Booklet 20 pp., en/de
“A Chopin Diary” — Frédéric Chopin: The Complete Nocturnes
Claire Huangci, piano
Berlin Classics 0300905BC (2 CDs, stereo); ℗ / © 2017
Booklet 32 pp., de/en