New York Times - Thursday, July 27, 2006 - Written by Bernard Holland

Fou Ts’ong Brings His Relaxed Precision to the International Keyboard Festival

Fou Ts’ong, a British pianist by way of Shanghai, was something of an international presence 40 years ago. We hear less of him on this side of the Atlantic, but he is still active as a player and competition jurist, and he showed up at the International Keyboard Institute and Festival at the Mannes College on Tuesday night. At 72, Mr. Fou commands a technique that is restrained but functioning. Most of his program was chosen for its musical interest rather than its technical challenge, this being as much by necessity as by good taste. Chopin’s F-minor Ballade at the end sounded more like laborious negotiation than free-flying virtuosity. He was more interesting in Haydn’s A-flat minor Sonata, music with a surprise around every corner, and in Mozart’s Fantasy in D minor (K. 397), operatic in declamation but with physical difficulties well within the reach of a reasonably gifted child.

Mr. Fou’s playing has characteristics of an older point of view, one that favors freedom over scrupulosity and coherence. A collection of Chopin mazurkas was improvisatory in style, and sometimes in fact. Mr. Fou likes to separate the hands slightly for melodic emphasis in the old-fashioned way, and he always has time to draw out phrases and create pregnant silences.

His tendency to sever Chopin’s linear writing in midflow and then leave it to dangle in musical space borders on the eccentric. The Mozart group, which included the Baroque-like Gigue in G and the great Rondo in A minor, worked better by being a little less free. In Chopin’s Berceuse Mr. Fou tried assiduously to disguise the monotony of the left-hand rhythm, when perhaps monotony was what Chopin intended.

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