Wednesday, 1 November 2017

CD Review (The Straits Times, November 2017)

BIS 2238 / *****

Of the many young Chinese pianists professing their art in today's concert halls, Zhang Haochen, now 27, is the most thoughtful of keyboard virtuosos. As ironic as that sounds, he eschews the outlandish showiness of Lang Lang, and the glamour and glitz of Yundi or Yuja Wang. 

His new recital album showcases that most valued of qualities: genuine musicality allied with the innate ability of saying what one means. Forget the fact that he can rip through Stravinsky's Three Movements from Petrushka with seemingly the greatest of ease, it is his view of Schumann's Kinderszenen (Scenes From Childhood) that moves. Its 13 movements of utmost simplicity are taken at face value and the music is allowed to speak for itself.

His concession to virtuosity takes place in Liszt's Ballade No.2, which builds to a shattering climax in a less commonly-heard version which replaces left hand scales with chords. In Janacek's Sonata I.X.1905, a young worker's death is remembered in anti-virtuoso terms, in which poetry and poignancy comes to the fore in two concentrated movements. 

The youngest-ever winner of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition concludes his recital with Brahms' Three Intermezzi Op.117, where song-like qualities and smouldering disquiet come through with an uncommon immediacy. Like holding infinity in the palm of his hand, and eternity in an hour, that is true virtuosity for you. 

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