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Educational but Perfunctory Concert for Amateurs

Hong Kong
Sha Tin Town Hall Auditorium, Sha Tin
10/01/2008 -  & October 3*
Sergei Prokofiev: Classical Symphony, Op 25 – Peter and the Wolf, Op 67
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No 1 in B-flat minor, Op 23

Chang Tao (Piano)
Hong Kong Sinfonietta, Yip Wing-sie (Conductor)

Chang Tao

Peter and Wolf is a four-concert series by the Sinfonietta in which they play live music accompanying the film projection. This concert series for children and family brings easy-listening and popular musical works by familiar soloists. Chang Tao, the soloist on Wednesday’s and tonight’s concerts, was a student at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA) under Gabriel Kwok and has recorded performance and interviews for RTHK and ATV when he was young. This time, as a professor of piano performance, Chang returns to Hong Kong to give master-classes and bringing two concerts with the HK Sinfonietta, in which the ever popular First Piano Concerto by Tchaikovsky is delivered.

Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, hardly need be emphasized, demands a fiery, at times hysterical style. Not only in its flashing octave bursts but throughout the piece, the pianist must risk everything, technically, while somehow sustaining the long line of music and overheated atmosphere. However, pianist Chang Tao’s reading tonight was stiff and rigid, with under-wrap dynamic contrasts and loosely connected phrases and sections. Many fast-running filigree and climatic passages were played with over-fervent loudness and relentless percussive tone, and most disappointingly, many indiscretions. The octave bursts were delivered with sparks and excitement, but at the same time, with hazy pedaling and lack of musical lines. The long octave phrases were disjointed into individual and unconnected notes. Tchaikovsky’s mellow and lyrical second movement was also too bland and monochrome.

After the fanfare and heroic opening by the burbled horns, the heavy and pounding chords on the piano somewhat overshadowed the sublime theme of the first violin. The lack of balance between the orchestra and the soloist, and among the orchestra itself, continued throughout the whole concerto. The folk-inspired first theme did not possess its humor and lightness, as it should have. What is given by Chang was the tightly coiled stiffness of interpretation, which was found in many originally flowing and swaying paragraphs.

In the charming second movement, Chang answered the flute’s main theme with deep and heavy sonority, but at the expense of milky and songful intonation. During the variation of the cello solo playing the main melody, there were two solos playing instead of one ‘solo’. It might be intentionally arranged to compensate the poor balance between the cello melody and piano accompaniment. But the price it paid was the lack of loneliness and individuality in this rapt solo melody. Cello’s weak tone continued into the waltz-style middle section. However, Chang’s scurrying runs and flying arpeggios in this section were exuberant and clearly articulated. There was a flubbed entrance when the music returned to the main theme – the strings, bassoons and the piano solo did not enter at the same time. The cut-off at the end of the movement was not synchronized too.

The third movement, again, sounded too literal and studied. Like the first movement, Chang had troubles with the technical demands by playing many wrong notes, leading to a prim and flat-footed account of this dancing third movement. While many young children around me were falling asleep, the concerto ended with a cold response from the audience. Were they too hurried into their favorite animation in the second half, or too bored by the young professor’s literal and ‘academic’ rendition? If this ‘popular’ classical piece brings weariness and boredom to the audience, I am a little worried about Yang Tian-wa’s Prokofiev Violin Concerto tomorrow evening. Anyway, stay in tune with ConcertoNet for tomorrow’s review.

Danny Kim-Nam Hui



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