Classical Music Guide - Thursday, July 24, 2008 - Written by Donald Isler

Yuan Sheng, Piano Recital

To give you an idea of how highly Yuan Sheng is regarded, let me begin by saying that, at the end of his recital, Harris Goldsmith and I were agreed that he can play anything. We just had not come to a complete understanding on whether it's because of his wonderful technique, or his excellent musicianship.

I had heard Yuan Sheng, who studied both in China and in this country, and now teaches at Beijing University, twice before. I was particularly looking forward to hearing him play Bach again, and was not disappointed.

Yuan Sheng makes one believe that Bach actually wrote these works for the modern piano, so "just right" do his interpretations sound. There is thought and meaning behind every note, and a consistently beautiful tone. The Prelude and Fugue were surprisingly dramatic, and the Partita, though it included every repeat, never seemed too long, because he always knew to change the volume, or the nuance, or SOMETHING in the repeats. The audience responded with exceptional enthusiasm at the end of this large work.

One of the things I noticed this evening was the extent of his dynamic range. It's not unusual for pianists to enjoy playing LOUD, but not many play so softly and so expressively at the soft end of a tonal palette.

A rousing performance of the Chopin Barcarolle was followed by two very interesting, and contrasting works by composer Ping Gao, who was born in 1970. Just A Moment was quite lovely, and had as a motif something that sounded like a tone cluster in which the notes are played separately, not together.

Night Alley was longer, and more dramatic. Its main motif sounded like a Morse Code signal, which gets elaborated upon. However, many other things also come in during the course of this work, including fragments of a Chopin Waltz, which, played at the very low dynamic level he uses so well, seemed like a delusion at first.

La Valse, which concluded the official program, was a tour de force, with, at different times, charm, elegance, and terrific power. A standing ovation marked its conclusion.

But Mr Sheng wasn't finished. Two encores followed.

The first was the Poeme, Op. 32, No. 1 of Scriabin, and it was another highlight of the evening. At times simple, at other times psychedelic, but always wondrous and tonally gorgeous I couldn't imagine this piece being played any better.

Mr. Sheng ended the concert with a piece Josef Hofmann was known for playing, Moszkowski's Spanish Caprice. An already fearsome piece, featuring interlocking chords and complicated repeated note sections, he played it at top speed, and with great flair.

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