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A Revival of the Fourth Wall

Chamber Hall of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra
03/02/2019 -  
Franz Schubert: Piano Sonatas in B major, D. 575, in A minor, D. 784, & in A major, D. 959
Ran Jia (piano)

R. Jia (© Uwe Arens)

Last Saturday’s recital given at the Chamber Hall of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra (SSO) was Ran Jia’s second recital dedicated to Schubert’s piano sonatas, which she also performed in Germany. For this concert, the young and promising Chinese pianist played three sonatas from 1817, 1823 and 1828, thus giving the audience an overview of the evolution of Schubert’s style.

Starting with the Sonata in B major, the last of a series of sonatas composed by Schubert in 1817, the audience could experience the great musical freedom the composer allowed himself in this unique piece. Although Ran Jia did render a certain sense of playfulness in the Allegro, the contrast between the lighter and the more powerful parts might have been a bit too sharp. However, in the beginning of the Andante, she displayed a great mastery of slowness, giving depth to well-performed silences. The pause in-between the second and the third movements almost seemed too short to let the audience further enjoy the peacefulness and delicacy of the Andante. Perhaps Ran Jia’s rush in shortening those silences in-between movements was due to the fear of losing an audience which already expressed tiresomeness through deep sighs and a constant shuffling of coats on chairs.

The rest of the audience who was still focused by the end of the Allegretto had to get back to earthly realities as an officious intermission unpropitiously occurred before the second sonata. The arrival of dozens of latecomers made it hard for the young pianist to gain back the attention of the Chamber Hall, making her start among moves and whispers.

The second piece performed that night was the A minor Sonata, another peculiar piece as this sonata only accounts for three movements – a real aesthetical questioning at the time of its composition, in 1823. Musicologists argue that this artistic irregularity, along with the morbid power of the first movement of this sonata, are the products of Schubert’s anxiety as he experienced the first symptoms of the deadly syphilis. Ran Jia seemed to put all her heart into the building of a powerful musical wave in the Allegro, although it did not seem to conquer the entirety of the audience. Nonetheless, this beautiful first movement displayed Ran Jia’s virtuosity and how an artist can give herself fully to the music she is performing – one could but regret to be unable to be fully on-board because of a constant background noise in the Hall and acoustics issues. The pianist dexterity was later on confirmed with the last Allegro vivace.

After a necessary intermission, the concert ended with the Sonata in A major, composed in 1828, only two months before the Romantic composer’s death. Once again, Ran Jia began without having a complete silence in the hall. She carried on her effort of building a solemn atmosphere, letting room for intense pauses throughout the Allegro. The following Andantino, which Brahms called “a sorrowful lullaby”, is considered as one of Schubert’s most beautiful pieces. The Chinese pianist gave a touching depth to this steady and calm funeral march, making the “cry” of the second part even more intense. The Andantino’s conclusion was incredibly moving as the softness of the last part was ended with Ran Jia’s long and emotional sighs, before carrying on with the last two movements. The final forte finished with the audience cheering.

Despite the inattention of several concert attendees and a flawed acoustics which made it impossible for Schubert’s lyricism to fully invade the SSO’s Chamber Hall, this recital revealed Ran Jia’s passion for the Austrian composer.

Ran Jia’s Website

Gabrielle Farnier



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