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Ya-Fei Chuang: Piano and player shine

  • Jul 10, 2012
By John Farnworth From The Register-Guard July 8, 2012  Gliding onto the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall stage in a glittery floor-length dark red dress, Ya-Fei Chuang certainly drew the audience’s attention in the very first moment of her piano recital on Thursday evening, part of this year’s Oregon Bach Festival. The other attention-drawing item on stage, even before the music commenced, was the grand piano — a Fazioli. Little known in the United States, this Italian-­made piano is the “must have” for several world-renowned pianists, including Angela Hewitt, who performs at the Oregon Bach Festival on Saturday. The Fazioli, first produced in 1981, is a relative newcomer in the world of great pianos. Production is extremely limited. The Fazioli on the Beall stage was brought in specifically for Hewitt’s performance, but Chuang, who normally plays on Steinways, clearly relished the opportunity to play the instrument. Its magnificent deep, sonorous tone, especially in the lower bass, immediately became apparent under Chuang’s majestic playing. Her recital commenced with six of the 24 preludes by French composer Claude-Achille Debussy. The composer’s impressionistic yet symbolic compositional style was drawn dramatically by Chuang’s playing, dreamily dissonant in “Ondine,” delicate but positive staccato in “La Serenade interompue,” and perhaps most demonstratively in “Ce qu’a cue le vent d’ouest” (What the west wind saw), building to a series of climaxes, very intense music and playing, strong emotional content, perhaps even some anger. All of the preludes were beautifully, deeply interpretively played. Earl Wild’s Seven Etudes on popular Gersh­win songs came next, showpieces of virtuosic, jazz-imbued pyrotechnics. Chuang demonstrated her utter proficiency and command of the keyboard in these short pieces, ending the seventh one, “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” by banging out the final chord with her right elbow! A great crowd-pleaser. After intermission came George Gershwin’s Three Preludes, the two outer movements filled with stunning, showy, rhythmic progressions, the inner movement a languid Andante. All were executed masterfully. The final offering was the meat and potatoes of the recital, Frederic Chopin’s glorious Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor. Chuang commenced the first movement, Allegro maestoso, a little less dramatically than others I have heard, such as Argerich, Ashkenazy and others, but her interpretation was deep and thoughtful. The short Scherzo was polished off with much brio, while the lengthy Largo was rendered with an achingly beautiful tenderness. The last movement, Finale: Presto non tanto, featured Chuang’s stunning virtuosity, her runs and trills quite breathtaking and, for the first time in the evening, a marvelously effective use of rubato. Her finish was greeted by deafening, well-deserved applause and yells of appreciation. An encore of Wild/Gershwin’s “Embraceable You” brought the brilliant recital to a close. John Farnworth of Vida reviews classical music for The Register-Guard.