Are there any new phrases or words left to describe one of Chopin’s most widely loved and often played work, Fantaisie-Impromptu Op 66, which opened Hoang Pham’s inspiring recital for Melbourne Digital Concert Hall? While some pianists focus on the Romanticism and the passion, with virtuosic, almost wild speed and feverish excitement never failing to impress, I was enchanted by Hoang’s fresh artistic approach to these works with a studied and magical, very personal performance of Chopin’s masterpieces. In this recital Hoang created an atmosphere of extraordinary ambience and awe. He paid the greatest respect to the classical elements of structure, key change and character, and shaped phrases and contrasting sections with significant expression, not following the usual sense of unbridled agitato or showy, relentless intensity. Sections and phrases had an ease of expression, control and gracefulness with thoughtful pauses and sensitive rubatos. The notes of the cross-rhythms of the famous opening themes flew with distinct clarity, brilliance and magnified detail. In Hoang’s sensitive interpretation, every note was crystal clear and precise, never rushed or getting lost in a torrent of furious emotion. Climactic chords were assertive, clean and crisp, defining classical elements of breathing and punctuation.
In a similar manner, Chopin’s Ballade No 1 Op 23 was also freshly portrayed with an apparent ease and warmth with sensitive and timely rubatos delineating the structure of the piece. Hoang communicated thoughtful personal expression, as he contrasted the character of new melodies, keys and textures. Remarkably, he played the continuous animated and virtuosic flights of arpeggios and double octaves with an astonishing, leisurely ease. Always strongly enforcing every new melodic entry, Hoang beautifully highlighted Chopin’s gorgeous, famous melodies, and was equally admirable with his control of crescendos and intense climaxes.
Despite the strange atmosphere, which must be felt by a soloist performing in the lofty Athenaeum Theatre, Hoang is a delightful communicator with his audience, honestly and openly sharing key points of the music, and inviting us to share and enjoy his interpretations. He introduced the two nocturnes to come – Faure’s NocturneNo 6 Op 63, and Hoang’s own recently composed Nocturne in A-flat major. Faure’s grand-scale piece goes beyond romantic poetry and emotion, and becomes almost impressionistic with flowing textures and suspended, widely spaced voicings. Exposed melodies stood out like operatic arias, shining out from the dramatic build-ups and key changes which Hoang exemplified with almost exaggerated expression and enhanced tone quality.
In his program notes Hoang described his intentions of “writing a piece of expressive quality in a language that was both Romantic and modern”. His Nocturne in A-flat major opened with contemplative, moody, stylistic fragments with softer, calmer supportive arpeggios. Strong melodic shapes spoke a contemporary language, decorated with exotic trills and virtuosic patterns which swept across the full range of keys. The intensity, built with surging left hand octaves driving prominent right hand trills, was both dramatic and uplifting. Just a fleeting taste of Rachmaninoff was there, just a touch of Chopin. Mostly, the essential elements of intimate, darker nocturnal reflections, shadows and silences, which were felt in the opening section, also calmly closed this terrific presentation. As a composer of new grand piano music, Hoang Pham has arrived.
This very enjoyable solo recital was well rounded off with Chopin’s Sonata No 3 Op 58, a true showpiece of Chopin’s genius. Pham introduced the work to his audience saying, “On a large scale, I think this is one of Chopin’s most conscientiously classical and noble works”. We received a showcase indeed, with much classical poise and elegance added to a brilliant and passionate atmosphere created by effective contrasts and strong percussive cadences.
With so many moods, so many technical demands, so many lyrical melodies and powerful statements building to a virtuosic climax, we received much heart and soul in this Sonata.
With just four fixed cameras defining our stage view, the very close-up camera work beautifully detailed Hoang’s scintillating but relaxed fingerwork. Credit must also go to Hoang for writing very individual program notes, sharing his personal experiences and composer’s intentions in his music selections, and clearly forming that essential human connection with his audience. Even a virtual one!
This was indeed a highly enjoyable and praiseworthy program.
Bravo, Hoang Pham!
Due to some technical glitches early in the transmitting of this concert, which affected a few minutes of screening, the full recording of the whole performance was quickly made available to subscribers by MDCH. It was a great pleasure to re-watch the performance of this fantastic music.