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Chu-Fang Huang at Embassy of China

This review is an Ionarts exclusive.

Pianist Chu-Fang HuangFriday evening, the Embassy Series presented the Chinese-born-American-trained pianist Chu-Fang Huang in a compelling solo recital. Music for the 7 pm performance began at 7:20 pm, somewhat of an improvement over previous Embassy Series events subject to lengthy introductions by multiple people. Huang’s own remarks, quoting parts of letters between Robert and Clara Schumann prior to their marriage, served as a welcome preface to Robert Schumann’s Fantasy in C, op. 17, a work intended as a testament of love to Clara. (In the interest of full disclosure, Huang and I attended the Curtis Institute of Music together.)

The grand work opens with a fluid bass line merged with a soaring treble line, with murmuring mid-range figuration between them. That figuration complements the strength of the bass while enhancing the beauty of the treble melody. With careful voicing, Huang created two characters joined by love. Huang struck a fine technical balance by precisely controlling everything without over-controlling, which can lead to dry playing. Additionally, Huang’s structural and harmonic awareness of the work was evident by her lingering on special harmonies and dissonances. An improvement in poise could be made if Huang directed the focus of her eyes and face across the length of the piano where the sound is created, instead of downward into the keyboard and floor.

Huang’s remarks about Ravel’s La Valse reminded the audience that this work, from around 1919, represents the composer’s cynicism after the calamity of WWI. With this in mind, Huang perhaps missed the opportunity to approach the work with the aim of making it closer to a waltz than a toccata. It would have been more interesting to see Huang cleverly struggle to make the work as colorful as possible by refusing to accept it as dark, but by striving for the ideal of a waltz. Quick repeated chords in the upper range were sometimes struck from above the keys, the outcome of which were a brief losses of power and control.

Haydn’s Sonata in B Minor, Hob. XVI/32, was performed with character, clarity, and contrasts. The Presto movement fluttered in a way one thought only fortepianos could, and it was appreciated that Huang did not try to do too much with the work, i.e. Romanticize it. However, there was one disappointing tendency in the Haydn: the final chord of cadences, which were perpetually overheld and accentuated. A final tonic chord has less dissonance than the previous dominant-function chords leading to it; thus it could have less volume, length, and pedal. Furthermore, a final tonic chord often ends a phrase, which would normally be left unaccented. Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7 contained contrasts between the tuneful, drunk-sounding Caloroso middle movement to the toccata-like tour de force Precipitato final movement. Huang allowed motifs to shoot clearly out from the chaotic texture, and the persistent bass figure finally gave way to a major, heroic ending. Hopefully, the new Chinese Embassy, currently under construction, will have a more appropriate hall for these types of events.

The next concert in the Embassy Series features flutist Marco Granados, soprano Lauren Skuce, and guitarist Oren Fader, at the Residence of the Venezuelan Ambassador (December 9, 5 pm).

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