Review: Two Piano recitals,Taipei, 8th June 2013

樂評:2013年6月8日台北,兩場鋼琴演奏會

林順欽2013鋼琴獨奏會–數位交響樂團協奏

美國鋼琴家 林恩・雷勵教授 台灣當代鋼琴作品獨奏會

Piano recitals are like buses – you wait ages and then two show up at the same time!

First up was Lin Shuennchin at the National Recital Hall at 14.30 to perform Liszt’s first piano concerto and Rachmaninoff’s second concerto – but without orchestra! Instead, with digital orchestra. O brave new world!

On the stage: a Steinway concert grand with either side two huge loudspeakers; plus a pianist in the most handsome dinner jacket one has seen in a long time.

Every pianist learning a concerto faces a basic problem: how to practice at home without the orchestra. (For any reader unfamiliar with the process, one solution is to find a fellow pianist willing to learn the orchestral reduction, and then to practice with them on a second piano. Then, more recently a range of CDs became available called Minus One (eg Beethoven 3rd Concerto minus one) which contain orchestral playing without the soloist. The difficulty here is that the soloist and orchestra are likely to have slightly different ideas on tempo.)

Professor Lin has been working on an innovative new solution since 2007, a digital orchestral simulation such that the soloist can choose in advance and preset the tempo for different sections. Dynamics and expression can also be preset. He has already tried this out in public for about 10 concerti. This will undoubtedly be extremely useful for the next generation of soloists and students wishing to practice at home with orchestral accompaniment. The potential value is enormous.

So how did it sound in concert? The orchestra was deafening in the ff sections such as the opening of the Liszt concerto, and a simple adjustment to the volume setting would have helped. The orchestral sound quality itself was slightly artificial sounding, like an early digital piano. But the synchronicity of pianist and orchestra seemed fine – the small number of moments of unhappiness between soloist and orchestra could have been because of performer’s nerves – it was hard to tell.

Whilst the programme notes did have excellent stylistic analysis of the music, they gave very little information about how this digital system operates: “The orchestra sound Dr Lin manufactures is by Steinberg Nuendo as the platform and East West Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra as the VST instrument.” Eehh? I wanted to know basic information, such as how exactly does the pianist pre-programme the orchestral tempo/dynamics? how much computer knowledge would  a soloist need to operate this system? If it is for sale, how much does it cost? If it is not for sale yet, when is it likely to reach the market, etc etc.

As a public event it slightly fell between two stools: neither a demonstration of a prototype (since that would require some verbal explanations, and perhaps commercial marketing), nor quite a concert (since the details such as the volume of the orchestra etc did not seem to take into consideration the enjoyment of the audience). There may be alternative and more appropriate forums outside the concert hall.

It is highly praiseworthy that Professor Lin tackles such demanding works on stage with courage and skill, and is a pioneer of innovative technological techniques for the benefit of the musical community.  Very good, but no cigar – yet!

Next was Professor Lynn Raley performing Contemporary Piano Works by Taiwan Composers, at the Chai Found 101 Auditorium, Taipei.

Professor Raley is a former student of Taipei American School, who has been making a special study of contemporary Taiwanese piano music. For the past 12 months he has been  Senior Fulbright Scholar, and Visiting Associate Professor of Music at  the National Chiao Tung University.

The evening’s programme consisted of 8 works for piano solo by living composers, three of which were receiving their world premieres. Three of the works were dedicated to Professor Tsung-Hsien Yang at the Taipei National University of the Arts by his pupils to celebrate his 60th Birthday. A related score entitled “The Joy of Keys” was freely available on the night, containing three of the scores by Chiu-Yu Chou, Yuan-Chen Li and Ching-Yi Wang together with contact details. Great idea!

I particularly enjoyed Chiu-Yu Chou’s Fluid Ripples (2012), one of three World Premiere’s in the programme: like a Jeux d’Eaux for our climate-stressed era. The tremolos of Ching-Yi Wang’s Upon the Night, A Whisper of Sky brought to my mind Takemitsu meeting Xenakis, soft-hued poetry meeting harder-edged logic. Tsung-Hsien Yang’s Albumblatter from Sansui Shack occupied its space with the well-formed assurance of a composer who has found his path, like a Brancusi sculpture. Mei-Fang Lin’s Mistress of the Labyrinth sounded to be the most pianistically challenging work of the evening, the exposed left hand passage work at the opening might frighten any pianist of a lesser calibre than Lynn Raley: but here, as throughout the evening, technical difficulties were surmounted and the scores delivered with persuasion and assurance. The audience seemed most intrigued by the Sound of Silence by Chi-Tien Lee: the pianist’s tasks included plucking strings within the piano, plus humming! Now that was a fresh moment!  It was an evening which will linger long in the mind.

My criticisms are very few: the sound of the Kawai piano was slightly hard: a better instrument would have lent an extra degree of velvety atmospheric languour which some of the music called for. The page turning was very slightly distracting.

The attractive venue was full, lighting and ambience were very good, the bilingual programme notes were helpful. It is to be hoped that Professor Raley will record his performance on YouTube at the earliest opportunity so that these works can find a wider audience that they richly deserve. Hats off!

Reviews copyright Matthew Koumis

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