Classical Music Guide Forum - Thursday, July 18, 2013 - Written by Donald Isler

Yuan Sheng Recital

Which model should one use for playing Bach on the piano? Edwin Fischer? Samuel Feinberg? Dinu Lipatti? Glenn Gould? Rosalyn Tureck? How about Yuan Sheng?

Yuan Sheng is a young Chinese and American trained artist whose annual recitals at the Festival I never miss. One of the impressive aspects about him is his versatility. Last year he gave a ravishing program of Debussy and Ravel. In other years he has played excellent recitals dedicated to the music of Chopin. And his program two years ago, consisting of the Bach Goldberg Variations, has to count as one of THE memorable experiences in my many years of attending concerts.

He has technique, he always produces a good tone (and he makes one think that this music was written for the modern piano), he has ideas and he has ears, so that the music always has motion and direction, even when he's playing very slowly. These days he's playing some movements without any pedal, and doing a bit more ornamentation than before. Some people may prefer a bit less of the latter, though I enjoyed it. Perhaps the most striking example of his creative ornamentation was in the return to Menuet I of Partita No. 1, where he changed to a triplet rhythm. Like the fine musician he is, any repeat always included some slight, interesting shift, in dynamics, expression or even phrasing. His daring was made clear in the wicked speed at which he played the concluding Gigue.

Partita No. 3, perhaps less known to some people than Partita No. 1, featured a beautifully played Sarabande (actually that could be said of how he played all the Sarabandes). He notched up the speed in each of the last three movements, from the rollicking Burlesca, through the spirited Scherzo, and finally in the Gigue, which was played with wonderful clarity.

Mr. Sheng held one's attention throughout the C Minor Toccata from the declamatory opening through the countless, though never boring repetitions of the fugue motive (he used an especially lovely sound color when it went into E-Flat Major), to the shocking F Minor chord on the last page, and then to the brilliant ending.

Mr. Sheng fought his way through some slight memory problems in the first movement of the Overture in the French Style, despite which it came off as an invigorating romp. The rest of this work was wonderfully played. Especially notable was the charm of the Gavottes, his presentation of the contrasting Passepieds, the expansiveness of the Sarabande and the last movement, the Echo, in which he would switch back and forth between two different levels of sound, sometimes in mid-melody, but always in a logical manner.

Mr. Sheng's encore was the theme of the Goldberg Variations. Played with seemingly spontaneous pacing (probably achieved by having practiced it a million times), every nuance filled with color and deep expression, it left nothing to be desired.

One must assume that Rosalyn Tureck, with whom Mr. Sheng studied, would be proud.

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